Colorado State got some good news Tuesday night when their top remaining basketball recruiting target for 2017, Pima C.C. (Ariz.) power forward Deion James, selected CSU over Fresno State, Southern Utah and Washington State. James took official visits to all four schools before deciding to sign with the Rams.
CSU's persistent and longstanding pursuit of James paid major dividends. CSU assistant Jase Herl headed up James' recruitment for the Rams, attending a handful of games and practices in Arizona this winter. In the end, though, it was a team effort by CSU's coaching staff in landing the 6-foot-8, smooth-shooting big man.
"I felt like it was the best fit there and I felt like I was going to develop the best there," James told InsideTheRams.com of his decision to pledge to CSU. "I felt that we had a good chance of winning and getting to the Sweet Sixteen. I really just believe in the coaching staff as well. They sold me on Colorado State."
James admitted it was difficult narrowing his options down to just one school after all four official visits were positive experiences. CSU, though, had an "it" factor that James couldn't shake.
"All the schools offered something for me that I had interest in," James said. "But at the end of the day, with the Colorado State visit, I just felt like something was different, like something was telling me it's a good spot and in the long run would be helping you out. I just felt like it was a great school for me."
The Rams' coaching staff was understandably elated to hear the news of James' commitment, which should finalize their five-member 2017 recruiting class.
"First, I called Coach (Larry) Eustachy. He was extremely happy," James said. "His wife heard and she also congratulated me. She was extremely happy as well. They were happy and I was happy as well. I talked to (Jase Herl) and he was excited as well. The whole coaching staff was excited and they all congratulated me, told me that they're happy I'm part of the family. I told them I'm excited for this year and all the work we're going to put in and all the success we'll have."
James earned NJCAA Division II Player of the Year in 2016 after averaging 20.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game for Pima. He played his freshman season at North Carolina A&T before returning home to play for Pima as a sophomore.
There, he helped lead the Aztecs to a 22-13 record and an appearance in the NJCAA Quarterfinals. Pima's 22 wins was their most since 1990 and according to Pima assistant coach Dylan Hidalgo, James was a big reason for Pima's short turnaround from a one-win season just four years ago.
"He was the missing piece. He was the guy we needed," Hidalgo explained. "Four years ago, when (Pima Head) Coach (Brian) Peabody took over the program, they won one game, and prior to that, they won two games - so three wins in two years. Peabody took over and it was slow and steady, an uphill battle there. We were waiting on a player like that to come along.
"We got lucky; we recruited hard, but got a little luck in there, too. Deion came along and I think he was a piece that put us over the edge. From the get go, we told him he was the piece that was missing to get us to the National Tournament to turn this program completely around. He bought into it and he was the one that made it happen. The team fell on his back and we had a lot of good pieces there with him, but he definitely took pride in his role."
Neither James, nor his coach, could remember all the scholarships James accumulated throughout his recruitment, as 30-40 colleges rolled through Pima to watch practices and games over the course of the season. UNLV, Rhode Island, Long Beach State, Jacksonville State, Santa Barbara, Northern Arizona, St. Francis, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Loyola Marymount were among the schools to extend offers to James this year.
James is a silky-smooth shooter, who shot 77.5 percent from the free throw line, 44.1 percent from the field and over 38 percent from behind the three-point line in 2016-2017. His versatility on the offensive end enabled his team to run the offense through him in the post, or most often, with him being the primary off-guard along the perimeter.
He doesn't necessarily compare his game to any one player, but said he tries to emulate the playing styles of Chris Paul and LeBron James. For as striking as his shooting numbers were, Hidalgo said it is James' passing ability that could be his best asset.
"He is a stretch four, but I think his best attribute is his ability to pass the basketball and shoot it. For us this year, he was somebody who could stretch the floor and shoot it from the three. Our offense was kind of ran through him and we reversed the ball through him. He made plays by shooting it, putting it on the ground and going directly to the rim, or making the right pass. We just put the ball in his hands and he did a good job of sharing with his teammates and also taking control when he needed. He's just an unselfish player that can shoot it and pass the ball extremely well for being 6-8 and that kind of size."
Herl was the primary recruiter for four of CSU's five class of 2017 signees. His tenacity on the recruiting trail, and specifically in recruiting James, was noted by Hidalgo.
"Jase (Herl) did an unbelievable job for any individual who was recruiting him. He was there about the most, if not the most, in terms for Deion in person," Hidalgo said. "He started around Christmas time, maybe a little earlier, and he came down and made some trips, definitely made it relevant to Deion and wanted him to know how interested CSU was, and he took pride in that. So Jase did an unbelievable job."
James has signed his financial aid agreement with CSU and will enroll for summer school next month. He isn't sure if we will arrive in Fort Collins mid-June for the start of classes, or if he will arrive earlier to begin workouts with the team. James will have two seasons to play at CSU and is immediately eligible as a junior college transfer.
What should CSU fans expect from Deion James in 2017-2018?
"It's going to be an exciting season," James said. "The main goal right now is to get Ws, to get wins. I think that'll be the most exciting part that CSU fans will enjoy, that's for sure."