TARPON SPRINGS — Tarpon Springs’ 16-2 record as of Monday night can be attributed to a number of factors. The Spongers are led by a solid core of players that mostly has experience playing together. The lone outlier to that nucleus, point guard Trai Halton, transferred from New Smyrna Beach this year, though he’s provided an instant spark of athleticism and talent. But truly elevating Tarpon from a team that last year failed to hit .500 to a squad outscoring most opponents by nearly 15 points a night is the ever-developing play of one junior’s rising star.
Scottie James, a 6-foot-5-and-growing wing, has fully taken the reigns of his team this year while averaging nearly 20 points and 13 rebounds a night. “He’s stepping up and he’s just doing a phenomenal job right now,” said Tarpon Springs Coach Jerry Woodka. “And he’s getting stronger. Every single day. You can see it in his vertical, on top of just getting taller. It’s all starting to come together even though he’s only a junior.” Where James separates himself from many other players in Pinellas County on the court is from beyond the arc. He’s had that coming together for some time now and the rangy junior, who said he’s still working to elevate more on his jumper, is hitting 3-pointers at a 40-percent clip. But to further maximize the offensive ability of himself and his team, James has been trying to round out his abilities by improving ball-handling and penetration skills. “I want to start driving more to get my team involved,” James said, “whether it’s dishing it to one of my bigs or hitting Trai for a 3.” Adding this diversity to form an all-around game — especially the long-range aspect — is something his father, Dave, an assistant coach and the program’s JV coach, aimed to instill in his son long ago. “That’s something I really preach to him a lot, mostly because I don’t have that,” said Dave James, a 6-foot-9 former professional basketball player overseas in the mid-1990s. “I’m strictly a post player. I’ve never really been able to shoot pretty much outside of 15 feet and it affected me with what I’m able to do.” The early training strategy appears to be paying off. And along with being steered in a wise direction on the court, Scottie is benefitting from simply being his father’s son in other ways. The younger James has grown about three inches each of the past two years and the elder said doctors have estimated a towering 6 feet11 as Scottie’s potential future height. If that projection comes to fruition, all the time spent away from the post will really start becoming apparent. After watching James pour in a season-high 33 points during the semifinals of the Indian Rocks Christian Holiday Tournament, though, Woodka said he’s already seeing the offensive potential when the junior goes to work. “If he’s playing inside and outside he’s unstoppable.” Part of playing in the paint is grabbing rebounds and learning to get good position on the offensive glass has helped James further boost his potency. Almost half of his nightly boards are after missed Tarpon Springs shots, many of which he puts back himself. The individual numbers are certainly beginning to reflect the efforts put in by James over the past year, but true success will be proved early next month. The Spongers are poised to enter their Class 5A District 8 tournament as the top seed. The last postseason trip was in 2010-11 and Tarpon hasn’t won a playoff game since 1947. “I think we’re gelling more and our chemistry’s building, but that’s all we really care about,” James said of getting out of districts and making a playoff run. “I’m trying to be a leader and just helping our team get the win.” firstname.lastname@example.org (727) 815-1071