Deion James harnessing his potential in conference play

Colin Barnard

Ever since Deion James signed his National Letter of Intent in May 2017 to play basketball at Colorado State University, coach Larry Eustachy touted his potential for stardom. Now 10 games into Mountain West play, that potential is starting to become tangible.

James driving
Junior Deion James (20) drives to the basket during the second half of the Rams’ 80-76 win over Winthrop on Nov. 14 at Moby Arena. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

The 6-foot-8, 215-pound forward is accustomed to being the best player on a basketball court. He was the Player of the Year at the Division II level of the National Junior College Athletic Association as a member of Pima Community College last year.

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Throughout high school, James earned first-team honors in his region of Arizona and was selected to state-wide All-Star games his senior year. Success followed him at nearly every stop of his basketball career.

That track record of success is part of what made his inconsistencies during the opening portion of the schedule so unique. The talent existed, but everything had yet to come together in a cohesive manner. That’s where coaching comes into play.

“A lot of the great players now, they accept criticism and they take it and learn from it,” James said. “That’s just part of learning, especially in college, and coach Eustachy has been helping me with that.”

James flashed the skillset with back-to-back double-digit scoring nights to open the season, then again in a 22-point, nine-rebound outing against Arkansas-Fort Smith. Intertwined in those spurts of success, though, were inconsistent performances in which James failed to stay on the court.

As he’s become more receptive to coaching, James’ improvement is noticeable. In the past five conference games, the skilled four-man is averaging 14 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.

James enjoyed his best performance of the season during the double-overtime loss to Wyoming Wednesday night. He racked up a season-high 24 points while shooting 62.5 percent from the field, hauled in 14 rebounds and added five assists to boot.

Eustachy isn’t the only one who has had an impact on James’ development. Fellow big man Nico Carvacho, just a redshirt sophomore, has developed into a leader for the forwards at CSU.

Players celebrating
Nico Carvacho (32) and Deion James (20) bump arms after a good play during a game against Northwestern State on Nov. 24. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

“He’s helped me a lot,” James said of Carvacho, who he rooms with on the road. “Since he’s been here for a couple years, he’s been teaching me the ropes and helped me get on the train faster and understanding how we run and how we play. He’s helped me a lot, and I’m just happy he’s there.”

In the middle of games, during practice and in film sessions, Carvacho’s three years of experience at the Division I level allow him to see things that others might miss.

“If I see something on the film, it’s not just getting on them, because we all make mistakes,” Carvacho said. “I’m talking to Deion, but I’m also talking to Doobie (Lorenzo Jenkins), talking to Logan (Ryan), talking to other guys so that they see it as well and try to understand it.”

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As always, development is a two-way street. While Carvacho’s experience in Eustachy’s system allows him to show less experienced players the ropes, James’ scoring ability and quickness for a big is something he can encourage in his teammates.  

“In practice when we’re guarding each other – since me and him already know how we play – we just try to make us uncomfortable on the court and try to make our skill level higher and make us think a little bit more,” James said.

James and Carvacho’s relationship as teammates has developed into a friendship off the court, too. Rooming together on road trips and spending time together off the court, the pair has plenty of time for things other than basketball.

“He’s a goofball, like us all,” Carvacho said. “We talk about basketball, but we’re joking around. We’ll play Xbox, play Fortnite or Call of Duty together and just talk trash all the time. It’s fun, that’s my guy, for sure.”

And as the two become closer off the court, their performances during games have flourished. In addition to James’ emergence in the last three weeks, Carvacho has developed into one of the Rams’ most consistent players.

James hook shot
Colorado State junior forward Deion James attempts to score against San Diego State defender Max Montana during the Rams 77-68 loss Tuesday night. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

Carvacho has at least 12 rebounds in eight consecutive games and six double-doubles over the stretch. During the span, he is averaging 10.5 points and 14.5 rebounds per game. The friendship off the court makes communication on it that much easier.

“Especially since we’re so close, he can tell me certain things,” James said. “He might not say it in the right way, but I know what he’s trying to say so I’m not gonna take it personal. I know he’s trying to help me and I’m trying to help him.”

While he continues to adjust to the speed, physicality length and all the other aspects that come with Division I basketball, James’ comfort level in Fort Collins is burgeoning.

“The pace is a little slower, I’m just starting to slow down and realize what works and what doesn’t work right now,” James said. “Once you start doing everything that coach Eustachy teaches right, the game comes easier for everybody.”

Collegian sports director Colin Barnard can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_.