Carson James

Tucson Local Medias’s No. 1 boys basketball athlete to keep an eye on this season turned out to be the region’s most exciting player this year, Catalina Foothills senior guard Carson James.

The James family books its vacations with two amenities in mind, warm beds and adjacent basketball courts. 

More than just shooting hoops, the court has been a fixture for the family since Carson, the youngest of the four James children, took to the game of basketball as a child.

Now 17 years old, Carson is cementing his place in a long lineage of James athletes, with three sisters that starred for the Catalina Foothills High School girls soccer team as students.

Looking to make his family proud, the senior has cut his own path on the hardwood as a 6 foot 2 inch point guard with a demanding touch and razor-accurate passing game. 

Carson was a key cog on last year’s Falcons squad, a group which ended its season at the 4A semifinals under longtime coach Doug D’Amore. 

It’s a game Carson can’t forget, falling to crosstown rival Salpointe Catholic, 77-70 in double-overtime in the second-to-last round of the playoffs. Carson scored 19 points in the contest, and called the defeat the toughest he’s faced in a lifetime of basketball. 

“I really enjoyed playing with that team,” he said. “Those groups of guys were my brothers, especially a lot of those seniors. So, that loss was very tough but with that being said, it was a hell of a game. That definitely motivated me to get in the gym in the offseason.” 

According to longtime teammate and lifelong friend Sam Beskind, Carson should find plenty of success this season.

Beskind, who graduated from Catalina Foothills in 2017, is currently a freshman on the Stanford Cardinal basketball team. He’s seen first-hand how hard Carson works in practice.

“Carson is a super special player,” Beskind said. “Playing alongside him—especially my senior year—was a great privilege, not only because of his talent but also because we are best friends. I knew that I could always rely on him to make shots down the stretch because I had experienced first-hand how much work he had put into it.”

Carson said he doesn’t need much motivation in life, taking a shine to competition in everything he does. It’s that drive that helped James earn the highest SAT score in D’Amore’s six-year tenure at Catalina Foothills, earning a 1500 on the standardized test. 

It’s that love of competition that motivates James to spend an hour (or more) every day at the Jewish Community Center, hoisting hundreds of shots before the sun cracks the ridges of the nearby Catalina Mountains. 

D’Amore gushes about James’ ability to run his offensive systems with deft precision, calling the senior the hardest worker he’s had in six years at the school. 

“His mindset is always positive and aggressive, but highly, highly competitive,” D’Amore said. “Really, he has the overall package of any kid you want, from the academic side, from the personal side, as a teammate, as a player, truly a one of a kind kid.”

Carson’s successes, both on the court and in the classroom, have opened the doors to a long list of colleges across the nation, though one school stands out. 

The senior decided to play college ball at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University, a Division III school known more for its academic rigor and lacrosse excellence than its basketball program. 

It was that academic tradition that drew Carson’s eye; he said the potential of attending the same university that has produced 22 Nobel Laureates, including President Woodrow Wilson. 

James, who has a 4.1 weighted GPA, couldn’t be ignored, and was intrigued by the combination of academic and athletic success the university has achieved. 

“Honestly, you really can’t get much better than that in terms of a school in the entire country,” Carson said. “It’s one of the top ten schools in the country, and for me, that opportunity was really hard to pass up.” 

Carson’s father, Mike, remembers how quickly his son fell in love with the school’s campus and the playing style that Johns Hopkins coach Josh Loeffler has installed in Baltimore. 

“The decision to attend Hopkins was pretty easy,” Mike said. “His high academic ability and hardworking skill set fit well with what Coach Loeffler is doing there and the Hopkins culture. It was fun to watch Carson interact with players and coaches and knowing he is going to one of the top academic school in the world makes all of us very proud.”

The senior guard isn’t sure what he’ll study in college, with the school’s medical studies courses vying with math and science for his future time. 

Carson is sure of one thing, though: Loeffler’s high-paced, high-scoring offense is the right fit for him, as the play style utilizes a lot of the skills D’Amore taught him during their four-year run together. 

One last ride

Carson learned a lot from the team’s bitter loss to the Lancers nine months ago, most importantly the finite nature of high school basketball. 

“That [loss] really showed me that high school basketball is not forever and going into my senior year, I think that gave me a good outlook,” he said. “Take every game one game at a time, whether you’re playing your rival or not, you’ve got to take advantage of every game.”

For D’Amore, the goal is for Carson to savor his final season with the Falcons, enjoying every game they play together.

“At times, I just want him to just enjoy it because it does go fast,” D’Amore said. “He’s going to blink, and he’s going to be a freshman again next year, having to go through the whole same process again. I just want him to have a good year. I want our team to enjoy the opportunity to play with a player like him, and learn from him, and let things come as they do.”

It’s a high school career that’s flown by in a flash, racing from the snow-laced shores of Alaska to the sunbaked foothills of Southern Arizona. 

It’s a career that Carson isn’t ready to close the book on just yet, not without bringing a state championship back to the northside Tucson high school. 

“I’m just really trying to enjoy these last moments and win every game,” he said.

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