AUSTIN, Texas -- Damion James never wanted to break any all-time records.
That was not the goal.
The goal was simple: Make the NBA. And fast.
"I think that when Damion came here, Damion thought he'd be one-and-done," Texas coach Rick Barnes said Tuesday night after a 79-68 win over Michigan State. "And I don't think any of the other players we've ever recruited thought that."
Not even Kevin Durant?
"No," Barnes answered. "Absolutely not. ... But Damion has one thing in mind: He wants to take care of his family. He's always said that from Day 1. It's been the most important thing. He even said this year at one point in time that his biggest disappointment is that he hasn't been able to take care of his mother yet."
The nation has long been focused on John Wall.
Me more than others.
But another great story is developing, one here in Texas that involves a senior instead of a freshman, one that involves a guy who wanted to be one-and-done (like Wall will be) but, after all these years, is still far from done. It's the story of Damion James, the 6-7 forward who identifies himself as the "heart and soul" of what many are now calling the nation's best team. He finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds against Michigan State, and in the process became UT's all-time leading rebounder.
|It was supposed to be a quick trip, but Damion James will go the distance with Rick Barnes in Austin. (US Presswire)|
The Big 12 record belongs to Nick Collison (1,143).
James is projected to smash that by the middle of next month.
So barring injury, he will leave college basketball as the Big 12's all-time leading rebounder, and he just might leave with a national title, too. These Longhorns are talented enough to cut nets in Indianapolis; James is good enough to lead them there. And if it happens, it should serve as a lesson for all elite recruits, that though there's nothing wrong with leaving early for big dollars, being stuck in school isn't always the worst thing in the world, either.
"I thought he was gone," said Texas junior Gary Johnson, who assumed -- as did Barnes -- that James was finished with college when he entered last June's NBA Draft.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Association. The general managers decided James wasn't big enough to play inside, wasn't skilled enough to play on the perimeter, wasn't a good enough leader on or off the court, and nobody could promise he would be a first-round pick or make it to the NBA at all.
Thus, James withdrew from the draft and returned to Texas.
He didn't want to do it.
But he did it.
And now here he is, talking incessantly about "being a leader" every time I see him, playing fabulously every time I see him, and in position to earn first team All-America honors while pushing Texas to an 11-0 start featuring wins over both schools that played for last season's national title (North Carolina and Michigan State). James is averaging 17.0 points and 10.8 rebounds for the No. 2 Longhorns. He's making 51.2 percent of his field-goal attempts. But more than anything he's ...
"Having a blast, man," James said. "I'm loving every moment of this."
Stuck in college?
Sure, that's a fair way to describe James' career.
He wanted to leave after his freshman season (like Durant).
And after his sophomore season (like D.J. Augustin).
And after his junior season, too.
But circumstances kept James in school for three years, then forced him back for a fourth and final year, which is shaping up to be his best year by far. He's posting big numbers (25 and 15 against UNC, 23 and 13 against MSU) on big stages and handling himself like a big-time leader.
Though James would rather be a millionaire in the NBA and further along in his quest to take care of his mother, he's not all that upset about the consolation prize doubling as the 2009-10 college basketball season.
"The best decision I ever made was coming to Texas," James said. "The second-best decision was coming back."