When Josiah James found out he’d made the McDonald’s All-American Game, he texted a few buddies who he knew had made it as well.
Congratulations were in order first. Then a little light-hearted banter ensued. Who was on which team mattered because matchups were already being discussed.
Who was going to guard who? Who was going to be in the skills challenge or the three-point contest? And what about the dunk contest?
That’s about the time James realized this isn’t going to be solely an exhibition game. This is going to a weeklong competition. The stakes are incredibly high against the nation’s best players. So although he plans to enjoy himself, the Porter-Gaud senior isn’t taking the opportunity lightly at all.
“I’m not going to play it like an all-star game,” James said. “This is real basketball to me, every practice, every drill. I know there are going to be NBA scouts in there so it’s like an early tryout for me. I’m definitely going to go 100 percent and show what I’m capable of.”
The Lowcountry should be well aware of what James is capable of by now. The five-star Tennessee signee averaged 30 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and five blocks per game this season, often sitting out fourth quarters. Porter-Gaud fell one game short of the state title game, losing to the eventual state champion Cardinal Newman in the semifinals. James, though, already had three other state championships from past years that will more than sustain his legacy.
The 42nd annual McDonald’s All-American Game at State Farm Arena in Atlanta is an opportunity to further expand his national presence. It’s billed as a competition of the 24 best high school basketball players. Rivals lists James as the No. 15 player in the country, 247Sports has him at 16. He was listed as the No. 1 point guard in the nation most of his junior year. Rivals now has him as the fifth-best shooting guard and 247Sports ranks him as the third-best combo guard. James, and most who know his game best, still insist he’s a natural point guard.
“I just look forward to being out there with the best players in the country again. I know we’re going to bring out the best in each other. That’s why I’m so thankful to have this opportunity,” James said. “It’s going to be a great environment. We’re all coming to compete but at the same time we’ll still make it an exciting game for the fans.”
He’s long been familiar with the exclusive network of elite prospects, having competed in marquee AAU tournaments, won a gold medal with Team USA’s U18 team and attended Steph Curry’s Under Armour SC30 Select Camp. He says a lot of the guys keep up with each other throughout the year. The McDonald's game will be a reunion of sorts for many of them.
“A lot of these guys, we’re actually friends,” James said. “I know a little bit about just about everybody that’s going to be there. We stay in contact through social media and stuff like that so it’ll be good to see everybody again.”
That sense of belonging can make it hard to accept not being included in some of the other national all-star games like the Jordan Brand Classic or the Iverson Classic. Those events feature many of the same names as the McDonald’s roster with some differences. James, and most familiar with those kinds of games, consider the McDonald’s game the most prestigious of all though. So he remains more focused on the honor that he did receive, rather than those he may not have.
“It’s hard seeing that you’re not selected to some of the things you think you’re worthy of,” he admitted. “You can’t think about the negative though. I focus on the positive and this is definitely going to be a positive experience. It’s a good chance to show why I should’ve been in some of those other games but I’m not too worried about it.”
James was presented his McDonald’s jersey at a school assembly Monday at Porter-Gaud. It was supposed to be a surprise but these things seem to have a way of leaking out. James was honored by the recognition, and even acted a little surprised anyway, as his classmates roared in approval.
“It’s pretty cool to see and hold the jersey with your name on it, I’m not going to lie,” James said. “Being able to share it with my family here at Porter-Gaud, my motivation, my backbone, that was really special.”
James will spend five days in Atlanta, participating in practices, media events and visiting the Ronald McDonald House, which is the beneficiary of the game’s net proceeds.
On Monday, he’ll compete in the Powerade Jam Fest three-point contest. He isn’t necessarily known as a three-point shooter, namely because he spent most of his career as a pass-first guard. He showed huge improvements in his shooting as his attempts rose during this senior year, though, and is optimistic about his chances in both the three-point contest and the actual game.
“I’ve been in the gym non-stop since the season ended, so hopefully I can do all right out there,” he said with a smile. “You know I’ve been working. Now isn’t the time to rest. I’m going out there to enjoy myself but, at the same time, it’s definitely all business.”