A step above the competition

Sara James aiming for big senior year
By: Matt Long
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With a scholarship to Stanford University signed, sealed and delivered, Sara James has a lot less to deal with this year. The senior basketball star at Oak Ridge High can relax a bit heading into games, knowing she has only to deal with other team’s best defensive player and constant double teams and at times triple teams instead of having also having to deal with coaches of colleges in the stands watching. She’s off to a solid start, as is her team. Oak Ridge began this week with a 7-0 record with a strong showing at the Brea Olinda Tournament where James was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. The following week the Lady Trojans won their own Shoot-Out Tournament and James was the Most Valuable Player again. Through seven games she’s averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds, as well as three assists and three steals per game. The Lady Trojans will attempt to win a third tournament this week when they host the Trojan Toss-Up, which started Monday and wraps up Wednesday. “I think the team’s been doing well,” James said. “We’re still improving, but people have stepped up. We’ve got a bunch of scorers this year instead of just a couple.” James is equally as pleased with her play this year. Her goals in the offseason were to improve her 3-point shooting and ball handling, along with a general improvement in her all-around game. “I think I’m doing well so far, but I still want to improve my rebounding, steals and assists,” James said. One thing James is excited about this season is her teammates. While teams inevitably double team her every time she steps on the court, James said she’s always looking for the open teammate and has great faith in her teammates to get the job done. Oak Ridge coach Steve White said his team has got good chemistry and there’s no issue with James being the go-to player. “There are times when Sara wants the ball and tries to take things in a competitive situation, but we preach that five is better than one and she knows that,” White said. “We want teams to pay the price when they only focus on Sara.” “When teams double-team me, I realize we’ve got others who can score,” James added. “I try to get them the ball as much as I can or set screens for them.” James said the team’s goal this season is to get to the state championship game, after making it to the Northern California final a year ago. Her job, then, is to take the team as far as it can go, but she said it’s no less pressure than she faced last year. “It just makes us work even harder,” James said. “We’re in Division I this year so that will be a bit different too.” Being a four-year varsity starter, it seems like James has been playing at Oak Ridge forever. Ironically enough, she had the talent to be there even before she reached the ninth grade. “She always came to our basketball camps since she was a young kid,” White said. “You could tell then that she stood out from the rest of the girls. The most impressive thing was that she and her dad came to one of our practices when she was in eighth grade. We needed another player and I asked her to step in and play and let’s just say that she could have been a starter on the varsity team. She got after it and scored and played defense. That’s indicative of the type of player and person she is.” James would love to end her high school career with a trip to the state title game and she’s got all the ability to lead the team there. She knows, however, she can’t do it alone. Fortunately, she has talented teammates that have the same goal, a trip to Bakersfield and the state championship game.   Getting to know: Sara James Age: 17 Height: 5’10” How have your brothers, Kevin (‘05) and Ryan (‘07) helped you as a basketball player? My brothers have always been pretty rough with me. I’ve grown up with them pushing me around, so it’s made me pretty tough. Besides basketball, though, they’re both great guys and wonderful role models. They’re my best friends. Who is the best basketball player in your family? While my brothers will say different, it has to be me. Besides basketball, what other hobbies do you have? I like to hang out with my family and friends. My dad and I like to bike ride in the spring. Do you have any pre-game rituals? I usually have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before games. What is the highlight of your basketball career thus far? Probably winning the section championship last year. Both my freshmen and sophomore year we had lost, so it meant a lot to finally do it with the team. What’s something that Coach White is always telling the team? “Respect everyone, fear no one.” When you were being recruited, how many pieces of mail did you receive from colleges each day? I received 8 to 10 pieces of mail from various schools around the country each day. What sold you on Stanford? Stanford has the best combination of academic and athletic excellence.