Justin James considers himself position-less, and that’s a good thing for the Wyoming men’s basketball team.
The 6-foot-7 sophomore is listed as a guard on the roster. He could see time at both the point and shooting guard spots, as well as at small or power forward.
“He’s athletic and skilled, and I look for him to play multiple positions on the floor this season,” first-year coach Allen Edwards said.
“As a freshman, he showed some glimpses, but for us going forward, it can’t be glimpses. We need more substance from him, and it has to happen consistently, rather than here or there. He’s one of many guys on this team that are key pieces to our puzzle.”
James played in 30 of UW’s 32 games last season, and started three. He averaged 5.2 points, 1.9 rebounds and 16.4 minutes per game. In conference play, James averaged 3.6 points per game and scored just 11 points in his last eight games.
James’ season ended at the end of the regular season. He was suspended, along with four teammates, after being cited for drug use. James missed UW’s lone game in the Mountain West Tournament.
As part of that punishment, James didn’t go with the team on its three-game exhibition trip to the Bahamas in August.
However, James isn’t looking back. Instead, he’s looking forward to what this team can do and the roles he may play.
“Coach Edwards says that every day is a chance to get better and be the best I can be,” he told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle (http://bit.ly/2eob3iV). “I try to be the hardest worker out on the court and lead by example. I don’t think about what’s happened in the past.
“If coach Edwards needs me to play (shooting guard) and score a little bit, I can do it. If I need to play point and facilitate, that’s fine. If I have to guard a big, I’ll do it. Having that versatility is nice because coach Edwards is giving us more freedom to play this season, and I think that will help because a lot of guys on this team are versatile.”
James shot a respectable 35.8 percent from 3-point range last season (19 of 53). But in an intra-squad scrimmage last weekend, Edwards said James was 8 of 10 from the field but didn’t shoot a 3.
Edwards said he liked what he saw offensively from his team in the scrimmage.
“Like I told the team, when we play together, I think we can be hard to guard,” he said. “We shot a little bit above 39 percent from 3, and that’s with (senior guard Jason McManamen) going 0 of 3. But he made a lot of mid-range shots.”
McManamen made 92 3-pointers last season, and his 44 percent shooting from behind the arc was second in the Mountain West and 15th nationally.
Edwards said junior guard Alexander Aka Gorski, who he thinks is UW’s second-best perimeter shooter, was 2 of 6 from 3-point range.
“The other guys took open and more balanced shots, and I walked away impressed with that,” Edwards added.
Edwards said his two points guards — junior Jeremy Lieberman and redshirt freshman walk-on Cody Kelley from Gillette — did a good job of taking care of the ball and shooting it. Edwards also said junior forwards Alan Herndon and Hayden Dalton shot the ball well from the perimeter. Edwards thought redshirt freshman post Andrew Moemeka was active on the offensive and defensive glass.
As for the defense, that was another story.
“After watching the scrimmage on film, we got away from our defensive habits,” Edwards said. “We addressed that in our next practice, and they got the message.”
Edwards said he’s comfortable playing nine guys as of now, and a maximum of 11 as the season approaches.