For the past year, Josiah James has played underneath Aaron Nesmith’s Gatorade Player of the Year banner in the Wendell Center at Porter-Gaud.
The five-star Tennessee signee asserts that awards have never his motivation. But he’s always had a friendly, sort-of sibling rivalry with Nesmith and figured a Gatorade flag of his own would look nice up there next to his teammate's banner. Now he’ll have one.
James was named the South Carolina boys basketball Player of the Year on Friday. He and Nesmith are the first players from the same school to ever receive the prestigious honor in consecutive seasons in South Carolina.
“That’s really cool,” James admitted. “Aaron has always driven me to become a better player. He set the blueprint with how hard he worked and how he handled himself on an off the court. It’s really cool that we can share that honor now.”
James was named SCISA Player of the Year, averaging 29 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks and five assists, often sitting out the fourth quarter of games this season. The 6-foot-7, 200-pound point guard is a three-time state champion, three-time all-state selection, 1,500-point scorer, a member of Team USA Basketball and next week he’ll compete alongside the nation’s best at the 42nd annual McDonald’s All-American Game.
“James had to take on more of a scorer’s mentality this year, but he’s really a throwback point guard who looks to set up the offense and get the ball where it needs to be,” Goose Creek coach Blake Hall said. “What truly sets him apart is his understanding of the game. He has the ability to see plays on offense and defense in advance.”
The Gatorade Player of the Year selection committee chooses winners based not only on athletic excellence but academics and personal character as well. James, has maintained a 3.19 GPA, while also volunteering at a local homeless shelter in between his loaded training schedule that often includes two or three workouts a day. As a Gatorade Player of the Year, James will be able to select a national or local youth sports organization to receive a $1,000 grant as part of Gatorade’s Play It Forward program. He’s also now eligible for an additional $10,000 spotlight grant, which will be selected later this year.
“I’ve never gone into it thinking about this award or that award. I focus more on wins and championships, really,” James said. “But this honor is really special. I never expect this kind of stuff. There are a lot of really great players in this state. So to be recognized like that, it’s an amazing feeling.”
James credited Porter-Gaud coach John Pearson and Cyclones assistant Travis Smith for helping both he and Nesmith develop the past couple of years. He says their success is indicative of the support that surrounds them.
“These awards are definitely a testament to the coaches and trainers we have around us at Porter-Gaud,” James said. “They’re in the gym with us day in and day out, early morning and late nights and you can see the results. They deserve the credit as much as me and Aaron do.”
Nesmith wrapped up his freshman season at Vanderbilt this week. James being a Volunteer and Nesmith a Commodore should only fuel the friendly competition between the two Cyclones. James caught most of Nesmith’s games, or at least the highlights, this season. He has to keep tabs on what he’s up against next season in that Southeastern Conference rivalry.
"It's going to be one for the history books for sure," Nesmith said of matching up against James next season. "I already told my teammates I'm guarding him the whole game. It'll be a lot of fun."
For now, though, and for years to come, they can hang side by side in the Wendell Center, both distinguished as Gatorade Players of the Year.
"It was so cool to see him win it after me. I was hoping he would win it his senior year when I was gone," Nesmith said. "We pushed each other to get better every day. So it's cool to see we both left something special hanging in the Porter-Gaud gym."