There are 27 high school basketball players in the class of 2019 with a five-star ranking, according to the latest list from Rivals.com.
Twenty-six of those blue-chip prospects play their spring and summer ball on one of the major shoe company circuits.
The exception is Josiah James, a 6-foot-6 recruit from Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, S.C., and one of the most promising young players in the country.
James has received plenty of calls from teams affiliated with the Nike, Adidas and Under Armour leagues. Still, he decided to play his final summer of AAU ball with TMP Elite, a local club that he’s been a part of since he was 12 years old.
“That’s just how he is. He’s a loyal kid,” his father, Kurt James, told the Herald-Leader. “He had other opportunities to go other places, but he felt loyal to that. And he stuck with it.”
Playing away from the bright lights — and the bleachers packed with college coaches — hasn’t done anything to disrupt James’ recruitment or his standing in next season’s senior class.
He has scholarship offers from Duke, Michigan State, Florida, Virginia, South Carolina and several others. Rivals.com ranks him as the No. 15 overall prospect in the 2019 class, and on Tuesday he was named to the USA Basketball U18 team that will compete for a FIBA gold medal starting next week in Canada.
“Josiah might be the best pure point guard in that class,” Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans said. “He’s 6-foot-6 — legit size — and makes all the right plays. … He’s mature beyond belief. He’s a super polished kid.”
Evans went on to describe James as a “very shifty” player who knows how to work angles, play at different speeds and — aided by his high basketball IQ and frame that includes a 6-9 wingspan — can defend the ‘1’ through ‘4’ positions.
“You add that together, and he’s a hell of a prospect,” Evans concluded.
James expressed a whatever’s-best-for-the-team mentality when asked to describe his own game and positional preference at the next level.
“I think that I can be a point guard for whatever team I choose. But I’m not only a point guard,” he told the Herald-Leader. “I think I can be versatile on both ends of the floor. I think I can guard ‘1’ through ‘4’. And that’s definitely something I’m working on: being more agile, staying in a more defensive stance.
“And on the offensive end, I don’t think I have to have the ball in my hand. I think I’m really good without the ball in my hand. So I don’t have to be a point guard, but if that’s what somebody wants to categorize me as, I can do it.”
James said some college coaches are recruiting him to be the predominant ball-handler in their system — “And I love that. I think I can control the game really well with my IQ,” he said — while other schools see great value in his versatility as a defender and remain unclear on his best fit offensively.
That’s fine, too.
“I think if you just put me with four other guys, I can just go in and do what I’m supposed to do,” he said.
That’s the approach he ‘s taken at USA Basketball training camp over the past several days. He handled the ball some, but — with a camp full of other highly talented point guards — he was often relegated to the wing, and he looked perfectly comfortable in that role.
That versatility and team-first attitude have made him a favorite of college coaches.
The Duke scholarship offer came just a few weeks ago, and that was a big one.
“I was very ecstatic after getting that call from Coach K. It was kind of a dream come true,” he said. “I remember telling my dad, and he was ecstatic. It’s really a blessing. Duke is a great school, a prestigious school. They have a great education and one of the best coaches in the game of basketball, ever. So that’s definitely a school that I’m grateful to have an offer from. That they have interest in me is just a blessing, and it makes you want to work even harder.”
James and his father, who played for Michigan State in the early 1980s, both said over the weekend that they hadn’t yet heard from anyone from Kentucky, though his high school coach has been in contact with a member of the coaching staff, and Kurt James pointed out that John Calipari was in the stands for Saturday’s U18 training camp session.
The Herald-Leader did confirm last week that UK is keeping an eye on James, who didn’t hesitate when asked if he’d be interested in hearing from the Wildcats.
“Oh, definitely,” he said.
What does he know about UK’s program?
“I know Coach Cal is one of the best coaches to ever do it. I know that the guys go there with one mission, and that’s a national championship. I know that they develop a lot over the year — or years — that they’re there. And I know it’s a good atmosphere. The fans are awesome. The students are awesome. I just know that about them.”
Sounds promising for the Cats, should they get more involved.
More good news for UK is that James is in no hurry to make a college decision. He said he’s not sure that he’ll release an official list of schools at any point — he doesn’t need the added attention that comes with that — and, while he’d like to make a college choice before his senior season begins, that’s not a certainty either.
“One thing about him, he’s been patient,” his father said. “He hasn’t tried to rush anything, and he’s just taking it one step at a time.”