Moving from one side of the United States to the other is never easy, especially when you’ve only known one “home” your entire life. For Eastern Michigan sophomore basketball player Christian James, his love for the game is what got him through it.
One of the most successful basketball players in recent history at well-known St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, California, James earned himself a full-ride scholarship during his senior season to play the sport at division one school, Eastern Michigan.
“It was pretty tough at first, but it got much easier when I thought about why I was doing this. Basketball is something that I really enjoy doing,” James said.
Those around James in high school knew this move wouldn’t be seamless, but actually expected him to excel once he branched out. For James, the toughest part about the move honestly might have been the severe dip in temperature from sunny Long Beach, California to frigid Ypsilanti, Michigan.
“I’ve had to start getting bigger pieces of clothings and learn how to layer due to the weather change,” James said.
Right away, James made an impact. He cracked the team’s rotation as a freshman in 2019, appearing in 27 games off the bench, averaging 4.4 points per game, and posting an impactful 1.7 defensive box plus-minus.
“He’s a low maintenance player. He can be successful in many different roles, which in my opinion helps you get on the floor earlier at the college level,” St. John Bosco coach Matt Dunn said.
With athletes always in question and seemingly under the microscope based off their play on the court, one thing no one has ever been able to question about James is his character. His approach to life – on and off the court – is often what stands out more than anything else.
“The transition away from home isn’t easy, but it helps when your character allows you to treat challenges as stepping stones to success. Chris has that type of character,” St. John Bosco assistant coach Michael Bartelt said.
Bartelt was around James as a coach, trainer and teacher in the classroom throughout his high school days, making him extremely familiar with James on and off the court.
The same goes for coach Matt Dunn, who was hired at St. John Bosco just a year before James transferred into the school.
“Chris has always been an independent worker, he was going to work his hardest regardless of the circumstances or where he is,” Dunn said.
A master at just doing the ‘little things’ the right way, with the combination of James’ work ethic, 4.0 GPA intelligence off the court and innate leadership qualities, success was destined to follow.
“He embodies the old cliches of just wanting it more than the other guy and being willing to do all the little things to be successful,” Bartelt said.
Base to Build Upon
After one year at Windward high school in Los Angeles, James transferred to St. John Bosco during the middle of his sophomore year and instantly become a beloved member of the program, as well as extremely integral to it’s success.
Whether it was playing through multiple nagging ankle injuries or playing through a bad back, James’ never gave excuses during his time at Bosco and consistently chose to put it all out on the line.
“One of my best memories of Chris at Bosco was him cramping up in our Corona Centennial playoff game, and how bad he tried to get back out (on the court) even though he didn’t feel good. That will always stand out to me,” Dunn said.
Christian James led Bosco to their first victory against rival Mater Dei in multiple seasons during his senior year, scoring 15 points and captaining the team on both ends of the floor. The win snapped a 69-game win streak for Mater Dei in the Trinity League.
“Easily my favorite memory at St. John Bosco was beating Mater Dei the first time since no one really believed we could beat them. It was a good feeling when everybody rushed the court when we won,” James said.
That same season, James was the clear leader and top scorer for the Bosco Braves on the road to their first-ever “Trinity League” title and their first overall league championship in over 24 years.
“Watching [Chris] make plays at the end of the Santa Margarita and Mater Dei games as he lead us to a league championship… He truly just willed us to win, and I will never forget that,” Dunn said.
As stated, Christian James was a beloved member of the St. John Bosco program. His teammates followed his lead, referring to him as their ‘captain.’ This quality of leadership and setting the example contributed to James’ early success at the collegiate level.
“His ability to lead others and unite people has played most into him playing right away (at EMU),” former teammate and current Saint Martin’s University guard Josh Camper said.
Though James never truly received much traction in the recruiting pipeline from high-major collegiate programs – despite often outclassing other local ‘top recruits’ at the high school level, his college selection and fit appears to be paying off.
James continues to impress at Eastern Michigan early on under coach Rob Murphy, playing the most minutes out of three freshmen rostered last season. His role only projects to rightfully expand from this point forward.
“His success begins and ends with his self-discipline and drive. He holds himself to such a high standard compared to other kids his age – athletically, academically, spiritually, and interpersonally. He’s so hard on himself, almost to a fault, but that’s what makes him great,” Bartelt said.
James was an honor roll student during his time at St. John Bosco, a top-of-the-line worker in the classroom and true embodiment of the term ‘student-athlete.’
“He never cuts corners, and that’s evidence of the faith he has in himself and the work ethic he’s honed on and off the court,” Bartelt said.
Christian James is currently pursuing a major in criminal justice at Eastern Michigan, not the typical major many division one athletes choose to study.
He figures to be a key role player for an experienced Eastern Michigan team this season, as they seek their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1997-1998.
In a year of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, James and the Eagles will look to continue their success at the end of last season.
In an era of stat-padding, the one thing that remains at the top of James’ priority list is winning basketball games, an innate, self-taught and self-recognized quality that isn’t necessarily common amongst all athletes at the college level.
“There is no question the greatest gift Chris brings is his will to win. As coaches, we say that all the time, but so rarely is it surely the number one priority for a really good player,” Dunn said.
Christian James and the Eagles lost the first game of their season to in-state powerhouse Michigan State on November 25th, and will take on fellow MAC opponent Toledo in their next matchup on December 4th.