Forget being named Big East Rookie of the Year and All-Big East Honorable mention in 2006. Let's put aside those six weeks he was named Big East Rookie of the Week and let's not mention that game tying shot James hit to send the Louisville game into overtime. While James played a huge role in helping the Golden Eagles return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003, it wasn't his show. Marquette would have been lost without the sharp-shooting Steve Novak, who brought consistency and leadership along with All-Big East recognition and a slew of NBA scouts every night to the Bradley Center.
Novak is gone, but the scouts remain.
Who could blame them?
James has lived up to each and every preseason accolade he received. Picked as a preseason 1st team All-American by many, James has averaged 18.6 points and just over four assists per game through the first three weeks of the season. But if anyone is the example of, "It's not what you do, it's when you do it," it's James.
Unlike last season, James has risen to the occasion when it has mattered most this year. In 2006, James' biggest games came during losses. He scored 28 points in a blowout loss at West Virginia, netted 22 points and snagged eight rebounds in a loss to Nebraska, hit the game tying shot against Louisville—an OT loss, and wouldn't you know it, James went for 20 points and five assists against Alabama in the NCAA tournament. You guessed it, Marquette lost that game too. Granted, the Golden Eagles could not have finished the season fourth in the Big East without the direction of James, but his big games came, ironically, in Marquette losses.
It was a game that most Marquette fans would like to forget. However, one could argue that James's turnaround started with the score tied 53-53 and four minutes left on the overtime clock against Idaho State. MU was on the verge of losing in the first round of the CBE Classic on their home floor. From 24 feet away, James buried a three pointer (the only field goal Marquette would score in overtime), that pushed his team past the feisty Bengals, avoiding what would have been the biggest embarrassment since, dare I say, the Western Michigan N.I.T. game in March of 2005. The following night, James tallied 20 points and dropped five dimes on Detroit in helping his team advance to Kansas City.
The semi-finals and finals of the CBE Classic in Kansas City gave James the spotlight, and he stole the show.
With the nation watching James on national television for just the fourth time during his career, James lifted the Golden Eagles to a CBE Classic Championship by defeating Texas Tech and Duke on consecutive nights. James earned continued praised from ESPN analyst Dick Vitale, dubbing him, "King James." According to Vitale, James proved himself as the nation's best point guard. With his team clinging to a 61-58 lead with three minutes left against Duke, James nailed a pull-up three pointer, and on the next possession, hit a jump shot, got fouled, and sank the free throw. In a matter of forty seconds, James had given MU a nine point lead and a victory over Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils. For his performance, James was named Tournament MVP.
King James and Co. returned from Kansas City only to hit the road six days later to Valparaiso, Indiana. A native of Richmond, James was playing in his home state for just the second time during his collegiate career. After scoring just four points in the first 34 minutes, James lit up the Crusaders for 18 straight points to finish the game. With four seconds left and the score tied, James buried a three pointer to give Marquette a 65-62 victory and a perfect 7-0 record. Wait, 18 straight points to finish the game? And Marquette won the game?
You see, times have changed.
Among the 5,036 fans in Valpo on Monday were scouts from several NBA teams. Rumors have been swirling for quite some time about James entering the draft after this season, just his second with the Golden Eagles. After all, Marquette has signed more players than they have scholarship spots for next season, leaving many to believe a spot will open up when and if James leaves.
Hardly 5'11'', size could definitely be an issue. James is not likely to leave unless he is assured of being drafted as a top 14 lottery pick.
Question: Who is the only lottery pick sized six foot or under in the last twenty years to actually make an impact in the NBA. The Answer: Allen Iverson.
Whatever James decides, he will be a Golden Eagle for at least four more months. If James's performance thus far gives any indication of things to come, the road to March could become the "King's Highway," for Marquette.