Travis Diener has handled the point-guard duties at Marquette University so efficiently the past three seasons, most followers of the program feel it will be next to impossible to replace the Fond du Lac native.
Nonetheless, while Diener will leave Marquette in the spring as one of its all-time greats, coach Tom Crean and his staff must move on.
And they do so believing they have found the right guy to take over for Diener in Dominic James, an explosive and athletic point guard from Richmond, Ind., who is ranked 26th among the top 200 players in the class of 2005 by PrepStars Recruiter's Handbook.
"Dominic is one of the nation's premier point guards, but what really separates him from the rest is his great floor leadership and explosive athletic ability," Crean said. "We believe he'll be a very charismatic leader and person at Marquette."
The 6-foot, 180-pound James is one of the leading contenders for the coveted Mr. Basketball award in Indiana.
Through games of Feb. 20, James led the state in scoring at more than 31 points per game. He set a school record with a 49-point outburst in a game earlier in the season.
James is an improved perimeter shooter, but his bread-and-butter on offense is penetrating into the lane and using his explosiveness to score over bigger opponents in the lane.
Playing in front of more than 6,000 fans on the road against league rival Anderson, Ind., on Feb. 18, James lived up to his ‘Dominator'
nickname by scoring 34 points, handing out 10 assists and grabbing six rebounds while leading Richmond to a dramatic 76-72 overtime victory against the state's seventh-ranked team.
It was James' remarkable twisting, off-balanced leaner in the lane with three seconds left in regulation that sent the game into overtime.
"Big players make big plays, and that's what I was trying to do," James said afterward. "I felt like that was the time where I needed to help my team get back to where it needed to be. I just tried to elevate and focus on the shot and it went down for me."
Richmond coach Chad Bolser has grown accustomed to watching James make big shots time and again during the past four years.
In fact, James' willingness to want the ball at crunch time dates back to his freshman year, when he first began playing in the Red Devils'
"As a freshman, Dominic was not our starting point guard," Bolser said. "In fact, he started out like every other freshman by playing on our freshmen squad.
"About two weeks into the season, we moved him up to the junior varsity level, and he went in and absolutely crushed people at that level. A few weeks later, one of our guards on the varsity level went down with an injury in a game on a Friday night. The next morning at 9 a.m., I'm getting ready to walk out for a 10 a.m. practice and Dominic is already in his practice gear standing at the gate because he knows we now need a guard. He said to me, ‘Just want to make sure that you didn't want me to practice today.' He's 14 years old at that point. About a week and a half later, we made the move and brought him up and he's been our starter ever since."
That type of mental toughness and eagerness to elevate his game is one of the reasons Bolser believes James will succeed as Marquette moves into the Big East Conference.
"I think Dominic has a tremendous competitive side that will allow him to go through the ups and downs and want to get better," Bolser said.
"I know Dominic will struggle some this summer when they put him through some of those morning workouts. But the length of his struggle will be less because he squats over 400 pounds and because he's lifted weights his entire career."
Playing on a squad with very limited size and depth, James has emerged as a scorer purely out of necessity.
"Dominic scores a lot of points because he understands we have to have him score for us to be successful," Bolser said. "If he were surrounded by different types of players, he would not necessarily choose to score as many points as he does. That description alone makes him a unique high school basketball player."
After scoring 24 points in the first half against Anderson, James spent the majority of his time setting up teammates in the second half. He had eight of his 10 assists after intermission.
"You have to have good ball distribution," James said. "You might have to rely on somebody else to make a big shot, so I was just trying to get everybody involved and in the flow of the game."
James hopes to do the same at Marquette next season.
Perimeter shooters like Marquette's Steve Novak and Dan Fitzgerald figure to benefit from James' ability to penetrate into the lane and then kick the ball out to shooters spotting up on the perimeter.
"I'm definitely looking forward to playing with guys like Novak," James said. "I feel Marquette is moving in the right direction. I have full confidence in coach Crean that he will bring in the right guys and make the right adjustments to the Big East Conference."
James says his faith in Crean was the deciding factor in selecting Marquette over Purdue last summer.
"I tell everybody this and it will never change. It was all because of coach Crean," said James, who has an older brother playing college basketball at Lakeland College near Sheboygan. "Marquette has a lot of very good things, but a lot of other schools also have a lot of good things in terms of facilities and academics.
"Coach Crean changed my whole mindset toward college basketball, and I felt like he could get me to where I need to be in the future. He's the reason I chose Marquette."
James is fully aware of the huge shoes he must fill in taking over for a player as talented as Diener.
But he also likes the challenge of potentially stepping into a major college program and making an immediate contribution.
"I think the coaches at Marquette have full confidence in me coming in and playing next year," James said. "I'm used to elevating my game to the level of competition and that's what I hope to do in the Big East Conference."
James figures to continue an excellent tradition of outstanding point guard play under Crean that began with Cordell Henry and continued with Diener.
And tradition is important to James, who helped to revive a once-proud Richmond program and hopes to do the same at Marquette.
"Just like Richmond, Marquette has a great tradition with Al McGuire," James said. "I felt like I brought back a little bit of the tradition to Richmond basketball, and I feel like I can do the same thing with Marquette basketball."
**This article was written for MarquetteHoops.com by Mark Miller, the editor of the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook & Wisconsin Basketball News. To read more from Mark Miller, please visit www.wbby.com
The Dominator/ Top recruit PG Dominic James
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