Friday, February 21, 2014

High-Rising James Takes Second In D-League Dunk Contest

He can plaster 7-footers on a poster in a single bound.

Ra'shad James, a 6-foot sky-riser for the Reno Bighorns, placed second overall at the D-League dunk contest during All-Star weekend in New Orleans.

 It was a knot-tight battle between James and Tony Mitchell, but in the end judges (including Spurs guard Danny Green) had Mitchell by a thin margin.

Robbed or not, James cherished the experience of the event over everything else.

The unidentified flying object soaring over Bourbon Street was not an alien life form. Nothing of the sort. It was, however, an extraterrestrial athlete.

James' prodigious vertical leap has been an integral ingredient of his game since he starred alongside Cincy guard/NBA prospect Sean Kilpatrick at White Plains High. 

He was always a freakish athlete, capable of scoring the rock in a variety of ways and creating offense.

The dunks he was able to pull off, at that level, vaulted him to cult hero status. The hang time was eye-opening. 

The way James was able to quickly get off his feet and levitate above super-sized big men, the way he crammed home ferocious made for pure basketball theater.

Though White Plains lost a 2007 nail-biter to nationally-ranked Mater Dei, then featuring former Villanova forward Taylor King and a crop of highly-courted Division-I recruits, James had a few flushes well worth the $7 admission.

 I actually left my wallet at home that night and snuck onto the court at Pace University in Pleasantville.

 So, Ra'shad, I owe you $7. Paypal or check?

James has become an overnight Youtube icon, after throwing down a  filthy one-handed sledgehammer dunk on 7-footer Travis Hyman.

The kid they call "Birdman" has proven he will fly in any weather. 

James' road to success has been about as smooth as a snow-blanketed trip up the Taconic.

 He averaged 16.8 points at St. Thomas Aquinas College, but transferred to Iona at his thirst to test the Division-I waters and pile up more wins.

Under Tim Cluess at Iona, James registered his presence with a trio of alley oops during the Maui tournament.

James was ultimately overshadowed by an elite backcourt featuring point guard Lamont "Momo" Jones, the Arizona transfer who authored a storied career with the Gaels.

James transferred to Northwood University in West Palm Beach, Fla., where he averaged 24.1 points and 7.0 boards, en route to earning First Team All-Conference and Player of the Year.

At Northwood, where Port Chester product Melvin "Porky" Calhoun left a legacy as a scoring guard, James' flair for the air again got gyms popping.

We caught up with the hops-heavy professional this week, where he shared his experiences and time in NOLA.

James On The Dunk Contest

"It was really a crazy, humbling experience for me. It was humbling first and foremost, just to be on such a big stage. Everyone is watching you, all eyes are glued on you, and the lights are bright! The fans, the entertainment, it was just an incredible environment and I'm grateful for the experience.

On The All Star Weekend Festivities

"I went down to the French Quarter and Bourbon Street and it was packed. It was non-stop traffic, people all over. The great part about the area is there is no tension, everyone really is relaxed and enjoying themselves. It's a great city and really special to see the pride people have in their city. Everyone was supportive of the (All Star Weekend) events and spirited. It's also not too many people, which makes it easier."

On His End Goals

"Ultimately, I would love to be in the NBA, to have my foot in that door and be able to prove myself on that level. I'm working towards that now. I played a lot of the two-guard position up to the first half of the season. I'm working my way to the point right now. Ultimately, the goal is to be in the NBA. If not, there are still options. I could play overseas. The most important thing would be able to support my family and as to be playing the game I love professionally, man, it's a blessing."

On White Plains Alum/Current Professionals Dave Boykin, Devon Austin, Jamell Cromartie, and Kilpatrick, a potential 2014 NBA draft pick

"I think you can attribute (where we are now) to constant hard work. We're all trying to get the best out of our current opportunities. Each and every one of us has had our ups and downs and I think it makes us more battle-tested. There's been adversity. There's been negativity, people saying "you can't do this" or "you won't make it." We've been able to work together and stay positive, focused, and hungry for success."

On Getting Adjusted To The D-League

"The biggest transition--and it's funny because even before I got out here, a colleague of mine told me the D-league can be a selfish, ego-driven league--but the biggest transition is understanding that you really have to play team basketball but at the same time go for yours to get noticed. We've had, on my team, no issue with anyone being too selfish because we really have a great understanding of each other and our style."

"It's way different from college. I mean, you have grown men who are capable of doing it all on the basketball court at this level. Someone can have your same athleticism, but they can shoot better and handle the ball just as well. You have to be able to play at a fast and slow pace. Right now I'm just soaking up everything, like a sponge."

On The Big Horns

"No question, we want to make the playoffs and win a D-League championship. We have the right group of guys and we all mesh well on and off the court. Everyone is cool, everyone is chill. Anyone on the team can hang out with anyone, on any given day. That's how tight-knit we are. It's cool because that brotherhood helps us on the court."