Shawn James is a 32 year old 208cm center from Brooklyn, New York playing his eighth professional season and first for Bilbao Basket (Spain-Liga Endesa). He started his basketball career in 2004 with Northeastern and moved to Duquesne (NCAA) and as a senior played 28 games averaged 12.6ppg, 6.9rpg, 1.1apg, BlocksNCAA-5(4.0bpg), FGP: 54.8%, 3PT: 33.3%, FT: 75.0%: Set career blocked shot record at Northeastern in only 29 games, finishing with 332 blocks in 55 games over two years. In 2008 he started his professional basketball career with Bnei Eshet Tours Hasharon (Premier League) where he played until 2011. He then played the next three years with top European team Maccabi Electra Tel-Aviv (Israel-Winner League) winning the 2014 Euroleague. He was the top blocker in the Israel league in five of six years and played 68 Euroleague games. Last season he played for EA7 Emporio Armani Milano (Italy-Serie A): 22 games: 3.7ppg, 3.4rpg; Euroleague: 18 games: 3.4ppg, 3.2rpg. He spoke to German Hoops before the Eurocup game against the EWE Baskets Oldenburg
Shawn thanks for talking to German Hoops You been all over Europe, but what does it feel like when you visit Germany on one of your journeys?
Germany is one of my favorite places to play. I really like the country because it is so Americanized compared to other places in Europe. I have played in Bamberg, Munich, Berlin and Bonn.
Do you ever get a chance to actually explore the cities when you are in Germany?
Playing Euroleague we would get here a day before and have time, but with Eurocup we have less time. We play Sunday, travel Monday, get in late and have a practice and the next day we play the game.
When you think of Germany what comes to mind when one asks you about its basketball?
What I really like about the German basketball is the set up of the arena´s. You see very nice arena´s with the top teams, but I was impressed in Oldenburg. When I stepped on the court in the practice tonight, I was surprised how nice it was being very state of the art. I wouldn´t have expected seeing that with a mid of the pack team.
What memories do you have playing against German teams over the past?
I play a lot of games. I don´t have any vivid memories of one particular team.
You have won your share of titles and what goals do you still have at the age of 32?
For me now it is all about going out and competing. Last season with Milan was one of my toughest seasons in my professional career. Not being able to play as much really was tough and this season I want to be able to get back to the level that I am accustomed to. I am very blessed to still be playing at this age and I credit it to always being focused and putting in the work.
Bilbao is playing Eurocup and in the Endesa league in Spain. With the roster so far is there more possible besides making the playoffs?
I feel that we can. The coaching staff at Bilbao is stressing giving 100%. We aren´t close to be the team that we want to yet, but we are on a good way. We won´t blow away any of the top teams, but to be successful we need to pay attention to the fine details that the coaching staff give us and just execute.
Will the team be strong enough with its three Americans and other imports and Spaniards to make a run in the Endesa league?
I think that we are deep enough to make a run with this roster. The two most important factors is how well we play and can we stay healthy. I feel that if we stay healthy and gel that we can do very good things.
Often when players get older their skill level diminishes and they tend to go to weaker leagues, but you are still consistent at the top. What is your secret to still being a very strong player at your age?
I think the most important thing now at this stage of my career is too have the will to compete. As I get older I will come across guys that can run and jump higher and it is harder to keep up. No matter how good you still are or how old, you always have to compete.
After having a more limited role with Milan last season do you see yourself having a bigger role with Bilbao this season?
I absolutely see myself having a bigger role. I didn´t have a limited role with Milan, but moreover it was nonexistent. It was such a tough situation there and one I had never had before in my career. It really didn´t matter how hard I worked on and off the court, I wasn´t going to play.
You are a very athletic player who can play above the rim all game long. Blocked shots and rebounds are the best of his game, but you also added some more scoring skills, court vision and a solid inside presence at top European level. What is a hidden strength in your game that doesn´t always get noticed?
This year my coach is trying to get me out of my shell. This season on offense I want to get away from being only on the rim, but hit shots like I did early in my career. This is what I did on smaller teams and was successful. When I was on big teams like Maccabi Tel Aviv I always had one role, but now I want to play free
You played with Maccabi Tel Aviv from 2011-2014. How close was this for you playing with a NBA type team?
Maccabi was family for me and still is today. It was like a brotherhood and I still talk daily with some of the guys. When you play for Maccabi you are not only accustomed to winning, but also expected to win every game. I took that mind set with me and I call it Maccabi pride.
What still remains your most vivid memory winning the 2014 Euroleague against Real Madrid?
The whole experience was amazing. Being in the Final 4 and winning the two games will always be with me. We were down a lot, but guys stepped up and made plays and just all came together. If we would have played against Barca, Real Madrid or CSKA in a series we wouldn´t have won, because they would have overpowered us. But we played for all the marbles in one game and took it.
Did you and Devin Smith have one last talk before the Euroleague final 2014 against Real Madrid remembering the loss a few years earlier or did you just know together that it was time to take care of business?
Beating Real Madrid was a collective team effort. We had lost too them a few times including in the 2013-2014 season and we felt that they thought that they had the lucky draw with CSKA. We played the underdog role to our favor.
How vital was the guard duo of Tyrese Rice and Ricky Hickmann that season for the success?
It was amazing. We had 2 dogs. The opponent couldn´t do much against those dogs. They were so important for our success and came ready to play each game.
You have seen Sylven Landesberg develop the last 5 years. Why isn´t he in the NBA?
(Shawn laughs) He is like a little brother for me. To be honest he has all talent and potential in the world, but once you leave college and come to Europe and are out of the NBA circle, it is hard to get back into it. You can´t say that Maccabi is a bad place for him to be at. He is making great money abroad and he doesn´t have the chase to go back over and play NBA Summer league and go to a vet camp with no guaranteed contract. After being in Europe 5-6 years you just don´t have the drive to go back which I can understand.
You played your first three professional seasons with Bnei Hasharon (Israel-Premier League) What was your wake up call to Europe where you knew that you were far away from Brooklyn New York?
My wake up call as a rookie was coming from the States and being in the Middle East. It hit me remembering what I saw on the news at home and then coming over and seeing that Israel was nothing like that. I quickly learned that Israel was a great place to live in.
You found a home in Israel your first six years? What kept you there so long?
Israel will always be like a second or third home for me. So many people became family. If I could I would go back. It wouldn´t be because of the basketball, but the friendships I have there. I had three wonderful years there and that was the reason why I stayed three more with Maccabi Tel Aviv.
How important was Ousmane Cisse your rookie season for getting you used to life and basketball overseas?
How do you know him?
I don´t, but in order to prepare a good interview I need to research your career and I figured an older guy like him was beneficial to you there as a rookie.
He was one of the most athletic guys that I ever played with. We had many of the same characheristics on the court. He was a defensive guy like me and we bonded right away. He showed me the ropes as a rookie and on top of that he is a very good guy.
You played two seasons at Northeastern, but then left for Duquesne. Were the annoying Boston sports fans too much for you?
Boston is a very important place for me because it is where I met my wife. I am a New York guy and I have to be honest I don’t care for the city, but I enjoyed the university Northeastern. The Boston sports fans were annoying though. When I was there it was the year that the Boston Red Sox finally broke the curse and won the World Series and beat my New York Yankees. I didn´t enjoy that, but I survived.
How present was the soul of Reggie Lewis your two years at Northeastern?
To be honest it wasn´t. Every one knew there what he had done and how he died, but you didn´t feel it on campus. There really wasn´t much memory for him and I really don´t know why.
What was your fondest memory of future NBA player J J Barea?
He was such a competitor and left it on the floor each day. It didn´t matter if it was a big game or an unimportant shooting game in practice, he just hated to lose. We had great times. At one point I was leading the nation in blocks and he in assists. That said it all for the type of team we had.
Do you believe not playing for a more well-known NCAA team hurt your NBA chances?
I would say no. Back then I was so blind to the NBA talk. I always doubted my NBA dream and potential. I started to play very late at age 18 and when I was 21, I was predicted to be a top 15 guy in the NBA draft. My knock was that I needed to put on weight. After my second season at Northeastern, I followed my coach to Duquesne (NCAA) and sat out my third year to work on my body. I wanted to come more of a complete player there. If I would have stayed at Northeastern and gone into the draft then with JJ Barea, I would have made the NBA
Who has been your most special teammate since you turned professional?
That is very hard to answer. I think it would have to be the 2014 Maccabi Tel Aviv team that won the Euroleague. Devin Smith, Joe Ingles, Tyrese Rice, Ricky Hickman and Sylven Landesberg and I have a group chat each day. We ask what is happening in Utah, Moscow or in Turkey. These are my special guys because they are like family.
You played against German national player and current NBA player Tibor Pleiss. Can he stick in the NBA?
I played against Tibor when he played for FC Barcelona and Laboral in Spain. I also had a chance to get to know him as we did some things for NBA live. He is a very talented player and just needs the chance. All guys in the NBA deserve to be there. He isn´t a slow big, but a center that has so many tools. He is agile and has a nice soft touch. I think that he can do well with the Utah Jazz. They have a young front court and many guys that have played in Europe which will help make the transition easier.
What is the state of Lebron James in 2015? Will he ever be mentioned in the same breath as a Michael Jordan?
I am a big Lebron fans as well as a big Jordan fan. I remember I had great memories of Jordan as a kid, but now as an adult I don’t pay as much attention to basketball like then. Jordan shaped my childhood and was like a super hero for me. Jordan won three titles in a row and then took a year and a half off and then won three straight titles while winning scoring titles and being defensive player of the year. I don´t think that you will see another player like Jordan ever again. However there is not a more complete player like Lebron. He does what he wants on the court and is successful. However we are living in the age of the media. Lebron gets picked a part while Jordan wasn´t picked apart in his prime because the media age then wasn´t like today. Lebron has to be flawless now as he is always under the microscope while Jordan wasn´t back then.
What was the last movie that you saw?
It is the 30th anniversary of Back to the future. I am watching Back to the future the first movie and will watch the second half after this interview.
Thanks Shawn for the chat.