‘Midrange Jesus’: James’ journey to Rider

By Benjamin Shinault

St. Thomas, a territory within the U.S Virgin Islands located in the Caribbean, is pleasurable to the eyes with its sandy beaches, crystal blue waters and squawking seagulls. Within the shores is the hometown of a Rider men’s basketball  great, senior forward Mervin James.

“We had basketball courts on the waterfront, we had a ton of other sports. We had baseball, people played cricket, soccer, volleyball; we really played every sport down there,” James said. 

For middle school, James packed his things and headed to the United States. When the plane tires touched down on the hot asphalt of Georgia, James’ basketball career took flight.

‘I couldn’t even understand him’

 “I moved to Georgia when I was 10 … the transition wasn’t bad,” James said.

This new home is where he would meet his life-long friend, teammate and true brother, Dwight Murray Jr, a former Rider Bronc.

Within his time at Rider, Murray was spectacular, landing on two All-MAAC teams and being 27th on the all-time scoring list. Murray was also known for his leadership skills on and off the court, something that made James gravitate towards him.

“DJ [Murray] is a really big piece in my life,” James said. “DJ’s dad was a coach and with him, that was my first year playing organized basketball.”

Murray said that when he first met James in middle school, he was quiet, something Bronc fans would not expect considering his persona on the court.

“When I first met him, he really wasn’t talking as much and honestly, I couldn’t even understand him, but we really started to get close around eighth grade,” Murray said.

James and Murray went on to play Amateur Athletic Union basketball with Murray’s father. From there, the chemistry between them only got stronger. 

“In high school, we got even better. Whenever I was in the gym, Merv would be in the gym,” Murray said.

James and Murray clicked as teammates in high school. James went on to average a double-double in high school with 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Murray was named an all-state and all-conference guard.

In high school, James and Murray played against future NBA stars like Jaylen Brown, Ben Simmons and RJ Barrett. They would also join forces with NBA players Collin Sexton and Jared Harper.

Under the two, they led the Falcons to a 22-3 record, the best in school history and during the season, they had a 21-game winning streak. 

“We were supposed to win the championship, but long story short, I blew it for us,” James said.

A new chapter

After high school, the pair went their separate ways for the first time since middle school. Murray committed to Incarnate Word, nearly 1,000 miles away from his home in Georgia, and James went to North Alabama. 

At North Alabama, James didn’t waste any time getting onto the score sheet. In his freshman season for the Lions, James was a starter who averaged nearly 10 points and 4.8 rebounds a game, and shot just under 50% from the field. With those averages as a true freshman, James was selected for the all-freshman team. 

The very next season, James improved even more, with averages of 14 points and 7.2 rebounds on 46% 

efficiency, which were good enough to put him on

 the All-Atlantic Sun Conference second team. 

‘Midrange Jesus’

After that season, James packed his bags once again and moved to New Jersey to play for Rider.

“The transition was really all on me, I came here knowing how to play already,” James said. “To come here and learn the new system … it wasn’t something I was doing already, so it took me some time to understand it.”

The system turned out to be the least of James’ worries, as he had a clean transition on the floor when he debuted for the Broncs. In his first year wearing cranberry and white, “midrange Jesus,” as Murray called James, averaged 11.1 points and five rebounds on 46% shooting. 

Similarly to his days at North Alabama, James only got better as time went along. This past season was easily James’ best year. This season alone, James was a finalist for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference player of the year, was the MAAC player of the week three times and totaled over 20 points 16 times.

What’s next

When a college athlete finally puts the seal on their college career, they always have to think about the next step in their journey. James plans to enter the NBA Draft and try his luck with the Summer League and individual workouts. If that doesn’t work out for James, he hopes to once again follow Murray and take his talents overseas.

“His game developed well in college. He can dribble way better than I ever could … he’s got a pro game now, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be in the league,” Murray said.

Although this season was successful for James, it was less fruitful for the Broncs, as they were eliminated for the second time in three years, both by the Peacocks of Saint Peter’s in the quarterfinal round of the MAAC tournament.

But with such a tough exit to his Rider career, James is happy with what Rider has given him.

“For the most part, everything went smoothly here,” James said.

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