Skyhawk Men's Basketball | Jason James - Head Coach
Jason James has been at the helm of The University of Tennessee at Martin men's basketball program since 2009-10. After spending seven seasons as an assistant coach at The University of Tennessee at Martin, including the role of associate head coach during the 2008-09 Ohio Valley Conference championship season, James was named the program's eighth head coach on June 5, 2009.
James, a native of St. Louis, Mo., is one of the nation's youngest NCAA Division-I men's basketball head coach, but his experience in the UT Martin program has prepared James for the challenge.
"This has always been my goal, ever since I was 10," the 34-year-old James said. "My dad introduced me to basketball and he always coached me and my brothers. He had such a joy in coaching that he made me want to coach and influence young men just like he did."
In 2011-12, UT Martin faced a tough schedule that included 10 games against eight eventual teams who made the postseason, including NCAA Tournament teams Louisville (Final Four), Ohio (Sweet 16), Murray State (round of 32) and Lamar (round of 68). The Skyhawks posted a 4-27 overall record but eight losses were by single-digits, including a 65-58 loss to No. 9 Murray State on Feb. 4.
During the 2011-12 campaign, James coached OVC Freshman of the Year Myles Taylor. Taylor also earned OVC All-Newcomer accolades after taking home the league's Freshman of the Week award five times during the season.
The Skyhawks soared to several new heights as a program in 2010-11, tripling their win output from the previous season and winning their first OVC tournament game in Nashville in program history.
UT Martin's success was atrributed to a steady blend of veterans and one of the most accomplished recruiting classes in program history. Senior Benzor Simmons led the team in scoring and became the program's 15th member of the 1,000 Point Club on Jan. 24, 2011 at SIU Edwardsville. The recruiting class all blossomed as well, as three Skyhawk freshmen combined to take home eight adidas OVC Freshman of the Week awards. That marked only the third time that one university has earned that many mentions in a single season since the league started giving out the award in the 1978-79 season.
After five losses by single-digits in five of their first 16 games in 2010-11 – including a narrow six-point loss at Tennessee on Dec. 29 – the Skyhawks began clicking around midseason of the OVC schedule, reeling off a four-game win streak from Jan. 15 through Jan. 24. A month later, the Skyhawks clinched a spot in the OVC tournament with a dominating 73-54 victory on the road against Eastern Illinois. In its OVC tournament opener, UT Martin earned a hard-fought 68-64 victory over Tennessee State before falling to Tennessee Tech – the eventual league runner-up
Despite a 4-25 record, James posted several positives during his debut season as bench leader at UT Martin in 2009-10 against arguably one of the toughest schedules in the history of the program. In his ratings for the first week of December, noted college basketball journalist Ken Pomeroy ranked the Skyhawks as having the fourth-toughest non-conference strength of schedule in NCAA Division-I. The Skyhawks wound up playing up nine games against six teams that made the postseason in 2009-10.
Despite the quality of opponents, seven of the team's losses were by 10 points or less as the Skyhawks battled injuries and was forced to play players out of position. A bit of history occured in late December of 2009, as the Skyhawks earned back-to-back Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Week accolades for just the second time in school history.
Off the court, James' players and staff go the extra mile to benefit the local community. The basketball team regularly organizes a team for the West Weakley County Relay for Life every June, raising thousands of dollars. The Skyhawks also fought the ongoing battle with cancer through the Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers event at home against Murray State in 2010 in a nationally-televised game on ESPN-U. In that collaboration, fans made donations for each three-pointer the team made in the month of January.
Under James, the Skyhawks have also been involved in the "Character Counts" program in the Weakley County schools, the D.A.R.E program, and the Boys and Girls clubs in Union City.
Over his tenure at UT Martin as an assistant coach, James was directly responsible in the recent resurgance of the Skyhawk program over the last several seasons. Since his first season on the Skyhawk bench in 2002, James has coached seven of UT Martin's 15 all-time 1,000 point scorers. He also recruited two of UT Martin's all-time great Division-I players in Jared Newson and Lester Hudson.
Newson ranks fourth in all-time program history in points scored after playing just three seasons with the Skyhawks. Newson ranks in the top-10 in seven different all-time career UT Martin categories, including points (1,347, fourth), field goals made (452, fifth), field goals attempted (1,016, fifth), free throws made (378, second), free throws attempted (526, first), rebounds (535, seventh), blocks (43, 10th) and steals (128, seventh). After he exhausted his eligibility at UT Martin, Newson attended training camp with the Dallas Mavericks before becoming an overseas fan favorite for his acrobatic slam-dunks in Germany.
In Hudson, James found a diamond in the rough that became one of the best all-around players in the NCAA and eventually would be chosen by the Boston Celtics in the 2009 NBA Draft. In Hudson's collegiate debut, he torched eventual national runner-up Memphis for 35 points, but the legend of Hudson was just getting started. Just eight days later, Hudson grabbed national headlines when he became the first-ever NCAA Division-I men's basketball player to record a quadruple-double (25 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 steals) vs. Central Baptist on Nov. 13, 2007. Later that season, Hudson became the first-ever UT Martin player to be named an All-American since the program joined the Division-I ranks in 1992.
That season, James helped guide the Skyhawks to a school-record for OVC wins in one season (11), as UT Martin won the OVC regular season championship for the first time ever. The Skyhawks also hosted and won a first-round OVC Tournament game for the first time in UT Martin history, before falling to eventual-tournament champion Austin Peay by a single point (78-77).
In that 2008-2009 season the Skyhawks broke or tied 12 team and individual game/season records, including most wins in a single season (22), and longest winning streak (11 games from Jan. 10 through Feb. 18). After winning its first-ever OVC regular-season championship, the Skyhawks earned a trip to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), the first postseason appearance for a UT Martin team in its brief Division-I history. In that game, the Skyhawks hung tough with SEC member Auburn on Auburn's home floor before falling 87-82.
James' coaching philosophy is simple: play the game the right way and the rest will fall into place.
"I tell the guys all the time 'performance counts'," James said. "Everybody is judged on their performance, rather that's fair or not. If we can show up and perform night in and night out, the wins and losses will take care of themselves. Our program is going to compete, fight, scratch and claw for 40 minutes."
Off the court, James is an intense scholar of the game. He spends countless hours watching tape, studying other coaches and reading books about all phases of the game of basketball.
James came to UT Martin from Forest Park Community College in St. Louis, Mo., where he was an assistant men's basketball coach for two years. The team finished second in the region James' first year, and many FPCC players during James' tenure went on to play Division I and Division II basketball.
Before his stint at Forest Park, James taught physical education and health for one year at Ritenour Middle School in St. Louis, while also coaching a high school all-star team from the state of Michigan that placed third out of 54 teams at the USA Junior Nationals.
James earned his bachelor's degree in physical education and health with a coaching endorsement from Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa in 2000. For two seasons he served as captain of the Graceland University basketball team. He was voted Graceland Freshman Basketball Player of the Year for the 1996-97 season and was named the team's MVP during the 1999-2000 season.
In the fall of 2010, James was enshrined in the fourth class of the Parkway Alumni Association Hall of Fame, as he was recognized for his contributions since graduating from Parkway West High School in St. Louis in 1996.
James married the former Dani Walker of Oxford, Miss. in May 2010 and the couple has two daughters, Sadie and Claire.