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Mike James: “Every game I want to show something to somebody”


Portland is the largest city in the state of Oregon but it is certainly not a huge city (“There are a lot of stuff to do even if it’s not Los Angeles,” says Mike James). It is located in the Northwest of the United States, an hour’s flight from Seattle, it’s cool, a little rainy, with a river, the Willamette cutting it in half, and the mountains all around the town. Here he was born and grew up, Mike James, a sort of self-taught basketball player. Eternally underrated. As they say in America he plays with a “chip on my shoulder”, an expression almost impossible to translate. It means that he essentially plays as if every time he has to prove something to someone. “Yes, it can be – he admits – but this is a what have you done lately business, a good year is just a good year because you can always go back and start again, so I try to play every game with this mentality.”

The new Olimpia point-guard attended the Ulysses Grant High School in Portland, a school with 1,500 students and a very good athletic tradition. Among his students are football and baseball players and former NBA point guard Terrell Brandon. In 2008 James led the basketball team to the Oregon state title but was not recruited by big-time colleges anyway. “It was not a surprise, I grew up late and was some kind of a late-bloomer”, he admits. He had to go to a junior college in Arizona to keep playing and then to Lamar, Texas, or rather to the Gulf of Mexico. He also scored 52 points in a game, led his team to the NCAA Tournament and yet … “Yet becoming a professional was far from my thoughts, I was just happy to play basketball and attending college. My coach in the latest part of my senior season mentioned it for the first time”, he says. The coach was Pat Knight, the son of the great Bobby Knight (Olympic gold in Los Angeles 1984, three NCAA titles in Indiana), as well as Mario Fioretti’s mentor.

James was not selected in the NBA draft, he did not even go near being selected, but Knight was right. He would have been a professional, first in Croatia then in Israel and then in Omegna. “I liked Italy right away, the culture, the food, especially the food. Omegna was a fun experience, a lot of fun, one more reason why I’m glad to be back in Italy”.

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