Freshman guard Christian James
Freshman Christian James came to the gym early Monday morning, along with the rest of his teammates. There was nothing new about it, even just a few days after the best game of his career.
The routine was the same, but James is different.
James, though, is different. He’s confident like he hasn’t been before nor could have been early in the season.
James knows he can be a difference-maker – a wild card.
“That’s me,” he said. “I haven’t played that much this season. I know teams don’t have that much film on me. I feel like I can be the X-factor.”
This is a new belief.
Scoring 12 points in the final seven minutes against West Virginia changed the way James thought about himself. He came to Oklahoma having played just two games in his last high school season after breaking his leg. James was starting to make an in mid-January impact until he sprained his ankle during a box-out drill in practice.
Now, he’s getting back to t becoming the type of player than can attack the basket , knock down an open corner 3 and find the open man.
“We knew he was capable of that,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “We really felt like that because he has good instincts. . . . I think we’ll see him continue to blossom pretty quickly.”
James’ confidence might be coming back, but it’s not a surprise to his high school coach Bruce Glover how well James played in the Big 12 semifinals against West Virginia. When James came back to Bellaire, Texas, over the last holiday break, he spoke with Glover, who reminded James to keep working.
From a distance, this year reminds Glover of James’ freshman year in high school.
“He wanted to learn and fit in and learn and never had a problem waiting his turn,” Glover said. “. . . That’s what I see with him sometimes, cheering the team on. I wasn’t surprised at all.
“I did talk to him about the level of play, now. That’s going to be a little different. It’s a totally different atmosphere. You’ve got to prove yourself in practice. I can guarantee you, he’s busting his behind in practice. We’ve had that talk.”
Hield sees a lot of himself in James, and that’s not even considering the similar haircut. Glover thinks James could be great – maybe even the next Hield.
This season, James has averaged less than nine minutes per game. In the NCAA Tournament expect that to spike.
The way Oklahoma uses the 6-foot-4, 218-pound guard could change as well. Kruger dabbled with James at the 4, and with the Sooners struggling to find depth behind Spangler, James could see more action in the post, where he played much of his high school season.
“He gives us another additional angle or threat,” Kruger said. “That would be great if we had somebody that could do that, not just scoring but rebounding the ball aggressively.. . . That would be good to see that.”