Entering her senior year, center Alyssa James has already established a polished résumé in her two active seasons on the Binghamton women’s basketball team. In particular, James has proven to be an elite defensive force for the Bearcats, earning America East (AE) Defensive Player of the Year honors in back-to-back years. Leading the conference in blocks per game (2.34) and finishing eighth in steals per game (1.8) certainly helped James become just the second player in AE women’s basketball history to win the award multiple times. Her statistical output is one that would even impress Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside, who exclusively listed himself as the only player capable of achieving triple-doubles with points, rebounds and blocks, as opposed to accomplishing the feat conventionally with points, rebounds and assists.
“I see a lot of guys in the NBA get triple-doubles with assists,” Whiteside said last year. “Ain’t nobody doing it with blocks.”
Although she is not in the NBA, James still joined elite company shortly after Whiteside’s statement, recording her first career triple-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 11 blocks against Stony Brook on Feb. 18, marking the only triple-double with double-digit blocks in program history. While her ability to fill the box score is captivating, James’ focus remains concentrated on only one statistic: winning.
“This year, I expect to win,” James said. “I’ve expected to win for the past three years, and this time I expect to actually come home with a ring.”
Following a loss in the AE Quarterfinals to Maine last year, the team remains highly regarded heading into the 2017-18 season, placing third in the conference preseason coaches’ poll. Additionally, James and senior guard Imani Watkins were named to the preseason all-conference team. While heightened expectations may increase pressure on the Bearcats to succeed, James remains stoic toward conference projections.
“[I don’t feel pressure] at all,” James said. “I think based off how we finished and how every team finished last year, the preseason polls were pretty accurate … I’ve had the same mindset every year. I always expect to win.”
James’ defensive presence is also felt in ways that do not impact the box score. Often, James leaves guards hesitant to drive, thanks to her abilities to help inside the paint and protect the rim. Offensive players are often left with few options when facing James’ rare combination of agility and verticality.
A repeated issue for the Bearcats last season was struggling to maintain high energy consistently. After adding sophomore center Payton Husson last season, the Bearcats have continued a focus on bolstering their presence in the post by the signing of 6-foot-3-inch freshman forward Kaylee Wasco. These reinforcements will both look to take some responsibility from James, improving the team’s overall production and keeping James fresh throughout the season. An extended rotation could help remedy last year’s problems of finding a consistent motor.
“We have to start and finish the same exact way; that means the season, and that also means every game that we play,” James said. “We’ve had a recurring theme of starting off really well in a game and ending just tired. We have to start and finish with the same energy.”
With the arrival of Wasco freshman guard Lizzy Spindler, accompanied by the Ramil twins — sophomore forward Olivia and junior center Jodi-Marie, who transferred from Georgetown — incoming players make up more than a quarter of the Binghamton roster. Despite this, the Bearcats have worked to develop chemistry successfully during the offseason.
“It’s impressed me how quick we’ve been able to come together with adding two new transfers and two freshmen,” James said. “We’re practicing well. We’re together as a team.”
With a plethora of options down low on a deep roster, Binghamton aims to continue its dominant two-way presence near the basket. That potency, of course, is fueled by James and her passion for winning.