If you decide to go to the Convocation Center for any of the Eastern Michigan women’s basketball games anytime soon, don’t be surprised if you see a magician.
No, you won’t see someone in the crowd pulling rabbits out of a hat, or even someone doing a disappearing act. What you’ll see is what Eagle coaches, players and fans have been seeing for the past two seasons: Tavelyn James.
“My mom always calls me the magician,” James said, a 5-foot-7 guard. “She says that whenever she comes to the games I tend to make magic.”
Heading into Wednesday’s contest against the University of Toledo, James led the Mid-American Conference in scoring (20.2 points per game) and three-pointers made (44). Her points per game were good enough for 14th in the country; the nation’s leader, Dawn Evans of James Madison, averages 26.8.
“She’s a scorer, a true scorer. Every team needs one, and she’s ours,” said junior Cassie Schrock, the MAC leader in assists with 6.86 per game. “I just try to find her.”
In a game earlier this season against Rochester College, James was found quite often. After putting up 39 points, she became the school record holder for points in a game.
Her coach has something else she’d rather call James.
“She’s just amazing,” coach AnnMarie Gilbert said. “She’s a scorer, but she can drive when you need her to drive. She can rebound the basketball. She got a few steals in the last game. She’s just becoming a better all-around player.
“Last year she just really shot the three. This year she can put it on the bounce a little bit, she can go down, dig down and get steals and the long rebounds.”
Gilbert was also quick to note just where she thinks her talented guard ranks among the other elite players in college basketball.
“I just think she’s one of the better small guards in the country,” Gilbert said. “I saw what she did against (then No. 5 in the country) Notre Dame (a 69-59 loss to the Irish in which James scored 21 points) and in that game she was the best player on the floor, hands down.”
Those words mean a lot if you realize the Irish are ranked third in the country and undefeated.
But to get a better understanding of who James really is and what has got her to this point, you have to go back a few years to when she was in high school.
As a student at Detroit’s Mackenzie High, James was in a unique situation; her dad was her coach. Usually, players whose parents are the coach seem to get favored. In James’ case, it seemed almost the opposite.
“He was harder on me because he knew I could do better because he knew I could be successful,” she said.
She did in fact seem to thrive under the circumstances. She achieved All-State honors each of her prep seasons, even after transferring to Detroit Mumford for her senior year.
There she averaged more than 23 points and was second in the state in scoring. Even the adjustment to college hasn’t slowed James down.
But as James and her teammates start to get into the wear and tear that is the MAC regular season, there’s only a couple things on the mind of “the magician.”
“Our goals are to win the MAC West division and then to also win the MAC,” James, 19, said. “Hopefully if we do that we can make it to the NCAA (tournament). We want to accomplish things that we didn’t get to accomplish last year as a team.
“That’s even the little things like becoming closer as a team and being able to be a teammate whether we’re on or off the court. More like a sisterhood.”
James, a biology major, who enjoys going to the movies, strawberry shakes from Red Robin and a few rounds of bowling (her best is a 258 game), believes she and her teammates are definitely close, and it shows in their off-court activities.
“Most of the things we do when we don’t have practice are as a team,” James said. “We take turns having cookouts at each girls place and this past weekend, we all went shopping together.”
Hopefully the chemistry will help bring home the Eagles’ first conference championship since the 2003-04 season.
With a little bit of magic, anything seems possible.