James Still Perseveres Through Turmoil

When you're eighteen, a senior in high school, a star on the basketball court, and bound for a Big East program, life should be good. But sometimes life can throw a curveball at you.

James Still is a 6'10, 210 pound center who plays for Community High School in the heart of Detroit. As a junior, Still was widely considered to be one of the top seventy-five players in the country, the best big man in the city, and a future can't-miss future college star. Less than a year later, Still has slipped fifty to seventy-five slots in the national rankings, he toils in near obscurity because of a lack of adequate newspaper coverage in Detroit, and not so long ago, his entire senior season was clouded in doubt.

Tony Woods has always been something of a mentor to James Still, and has trained and coached Still for a number of years. Up until recently, Woods was the veteran head basketball coach at Detroit Community High, and had achieved a respectable level of success with the program. Community High reached the state quarterfinals in both Still's sophomore and junior years, no small feat considering the level of competition in Michigan. Now, Woods is no longer Community's coach.

"I stepped down last week," said Tony Woods. "Our program is going through a transition. It's unfortunate that this is happening in James' senior year. He's upset because he can't control other stuff with the staff and administration. Because of things that I can't get into, I felt that I had to step down."

In the scant media coverage that Community High did receive early on in the season, reports circulated that the guards on the squad "were out of control, and were not getting Still the ball." Those reports were not inaccurate.

"James is playing with a very young group, and again, its unfortunate that this is happening in his senior year," Woods said. "We only had two players returning from last year's team, and the rest of the players are all freshmen and sophomores. Our starting guards are a freshman and a sophomore. They really haven't seen the pace of the game. They can be tough to control."

"The thing about James," Woods continued. "is that he's been very effective for us this year, despite everything. He's a quiet leader. He's not a rah-rah kind of guy. But he'll boost ‘em up, he'll coach them up (the younger players) through his actions on the floor. He does all of the little things."

"James was upset when I stepped down. He called me and said he was thinking about not playing. I told him, ‘You play!' Whatever happens, no matter what, you always play. The thing is, I'm still training with James. I've called the Providence coaches and asked for their workouts. My responsibility is to get him stronger. He's all of 6'10 and he is long. He's 210 pounds, and that's up from 185. James has been special."

Other reports that surfaced indicated that Still was hurt by his lack of exposure on the summer AAU circuit. That also turned out to be true.

"He broke his hand in the spring," said Woods. "So he didn't go to the early summer camps. Then he went to one tournament in Las Vegas and he played pretty well there. But he decided he didn't want to play AAU ball. He saw some things that he didn't like and so he didn't want to play. You know, we have rules. You don't practice, you don't play. On those AAU teams, he saw guys who would blow off practices and then still play. So he decided that he wanted to just lift weights and work on things with his game. And that hurt him with the recruiting experts because he didn't get seen a lot."

Lack of exposure and falling recruiting rankings did not prevent big time programs from pursuing Still, however. "Xavier, Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State, Baylor, Detroit," Woods continued. "All were recruiting him and he had offers from most of them. He took his visit to Providence and he loved it there. He came back and described it as a real family atmosphere, a family feel, just like what we had here. He liked the coaching staff, Coach Keno and Coach Chris Davis. And he was ready to commit on the spot but he had told another school, the University of Detroit, that he would give them a visit. Detroit has one of his former teammates from Community High. And James is a man of his word. He told them he'd give them a visit and he did, but he loved Providence." Still visited the Friars along with fellow Michigan star, guard Duke Mondy, and Mondy quickly committed.

Despite the distractions and the struggles of a young team with me-first guards, the big man is still having a solid season. "He's averaging about 20 points and close to 15 rebounds a game," Woods confirmed. "This is his highest scoring total, but he's more about winning. He's been the bright spot this season. We were 2-7 when I stepped down, so he's unhappy that the team is not having more success. But he's mentally tough. The game after I stepped down, I got a text message from him that he had scored 26 points and had 14 rebounds. That's focus."

Obviously Still, like most high school big men, is not yet a finished product. So what does he need to work on in order to be ready for the Big East wars? "He's got to get a little stronger. That's number one," said Woods. "And he needs to improve his lateral movement. If he improves his lateral movement, he could even play some three. And his passing. He can become a little better passer. See, I teach regardless of position. I teach players to shoot, to pass, to defend. And James can shoot real well. He rebounds, he alters shots because he's long. He's a first in the gym, last to leave the gym kind of guy. There'll be no problem with his work ethic. And he's tough. He'll be good at the four early on."

"There's no question he's going to be special."

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