Now in her senior season, center Alyssa James has made her mark as one of the most dominant players in the history of the Binghamton women’s basketball team. Owning both the America East Confernce and program record for career blocks in less than three seasons of play, James’ prowess at defending the paint has made her one of the main catalysts for the Bearcats’ success in recent years. Despite transferring to Binghamton after spending her freshman season at Division II Caldwell University, James’ connection to the Bearcats was formed in her senior year of high school.
“[Binghamton women’s basketball] has helped me a lot — especially having coach [Linda Cimino] here,” James said. “I’ve known who she was as a person, as a coach since she was recruiting me my senior year in high school, and she has not changed any of her principles or the way that she disciplines us … she holds us all to the same standard.”
The niece of NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, James’ elite play at the Division I level may not surprise many. However, having such a strong presence of the sport around her, James initially wanted to stand out by doing something different.
“When I was younger, I didn’t actually want to play basketball, mainly because all of my cousins were doing it,” James said. “I used to dance. I danced for eight years … I actually tried out for performing arts schools like Frank Sinatra [School of the Arts] and LaGuardia [High School].”
Ultimately, James’ height led her to being recruited to join a local CYO team in middle school. Initially unwilling to play, James rapidly became one of the best players in her grade by learning the game at its most fundamental level.
“At first I was reluctant, but eventually I started playing, and I was terrible,” James said. “[I would] throw the basketball the wrong way, going down the wrong end of the court, scoring on the wrong basket, stuff you do as an unskilled kid. I started getting better [toward] eighth grade and high school and I started really getting into it. I joined the [Amateur Athletic Union] my sophomore summer of high school and it was just up from there.”
Off the court, James earned a bachelor’s degree in geography last spring, and is now working toward earning her master’s in the same field. Once a math major, James was swayed to geography by a class that focused on immigrant life in her hometown of Queens, New York.
“I just started my graduate degree last semester … I’m just interested in seeing what other graduate students in my program are accomplishing and I’m excited for what I could accomplish in this program,” James said. “I’m just starting to get into research. I am doing research, but more like how can I interpret the research and how can I put it together toward a thesis proposal? And that’s where I’m at right now. I’m actually thinking about doing something based on food insecurity in the Binghamton area, because there’s a lot of food deserts in the area.”
While her career as a Bearcat may be coming to an end this season, James has no intentions of ending her playing career.
“I would love to play overseas,” James said. “I’m focusing on that right now, but if not, I know that what I’m doing in the geography front is definitely gonna get me a job wherever I want to. I’m thinking about [playing in] Spain and Portugal, in that area. Italy, France maybe. I haven’t really locked in on anything yet.”