STEP BY STEP

Anaya James

This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

Not everyone that picks up a basketball instantly dreams of playing under the bright lights of an NCAA Division I banner against the best players in the country. For some individuals, it’s mainly about building lifelong relationships, finding connections and embracing all of the other outside benefits that come along with being involved in the sport.

Such was the case for University of the Pacific point guard Anaya James, who modeled after her older brother in choosing basketball as the sport she wanted to pursue.

There were other sports that she participated in as well, but basketball was the one that towered above the rest in igniting her passion and love for competition.

“I was a cheerleader for a year and did not like that. I did track in elementary school, and sure, it was cool, but there was just something about basketball that made me gravitate towards it more,” said James.

“It’s so fast-paced, and you can keep piling the points on the scoreboard. It’s just fun, you know? Plus, you get to build those connections and relationships with your teammates.”

The Division I takeoff

There was plenty of fun to be had on the basketball court, but James’ father envisioned an opportunity for his daughter to do more than just make friends and play a sport for fun.

He had been coaching her up for her entire life to someday get a scholarship at a Division I program.

Even when James couldn’t see it in herself, her father was always there encouraging her along the way.

He truly believed his daughter had what it took to not only succeed at the grade school level, but to compete at the collegiate level as well.

However, that old idiom that “fathers know best” didn’t kick in for James until she was in high school.

That’s around the time when she started to really believe her dad and take basketball seriously.

“My dad always said I could make it to college and play, but I probably didn’t believe it until high school,” said James

When the offers started coming in, James knew right off the bat she didn’t want to go to a bigger school, and she’d prefer to join a team that played similarly to her high school team.

At the end of the day, she wanted to be somewhere that she could fit right in and make an immediate impact, while also deriving those same connections that made her fall in love with the sport in the first place.

“My high school team was more fast-paced in pushing the ball on offense and transition. Pacific had that,” James said.

“I also liked the fact that it was a smaller school. I don’t need to be at a big school with distractions. I feel like I need to focus, and Pacific helps me do just that. It’s like a family here.”

A rocky transition

Even with a great family atmosphere, the transition from high school to college came with its fair share of challenges for James, both on and off the court.

There were physical challenges against older and much more experienced competition. Everyone was bigger, stronger and faster at the Division I level.

But there were also mental challenges off the court when attempting to balance traveling and school work. On top of all of that, James’ entire family left the west coast and moved out east once she graduated from high school.

‘Home’ suddenly went from being in California to now being on the other side of the country.

“My teammates and coaches have definitely been very helpful. They’ve made sure that I’m getting the help I need through tutoring,” said James.

“They’ve also made this campus feel like a home, especially with my family moving out East. I’ve felt welcome here since day one, and it really does feel like my family away from home.”

My teammates and coaches have definitely been very helpful. They’ve made sure that I’m getting the help I need through tutoring. They’ve also made this campus feel like a home, especially with my family moving out East. I’ve felt welcome here since day one, and it really does feel like my family away from home.

Same time, new expectations

That immediate support from the team increased James’ confidence and helped her go on to have a spectacular rookie season.

Last year, she was a seven-time WCC Freshman of the Week, a WCC All-Freshman Team member, an honorable mention for the All-WCC Team and the scoring leader for the Tigers.

James was hopeful the team could aim higher with so many players returning this time around.

“Since we were coming off a losing season, we just wanted to be better than last year,” said James.

“We were definitely more prepared this year, and I feel like everyone is stepping up and trying to be a leader. Last year, we were all just trying to figure out our role on the team.”

“Having that early success last year definitely boosted my confidence. I felt a little bit better going into this year.”

The growth within James as both a player and a person has been nothing short of amazing. It wasn’t too long ago that she was still looking at basketball as more of a hobby instead of something that could potentially change her life for the better.

She never stopped following in her brother’s footsteps, and her father has been a believer since the very beginning.

“They’re both extremely proud of me,” James said.

“My brother ended up quitting basketball after high school. So just seeing me at the next level really made him happy. And my dad, you know, he always said I could make it here. The fact that I actually did is just so amazing.”

James hasn’t decided if she wants to pursue speech pathology or a professional basketball career once her college journey comes to an end.

She’s made the decision to leave the future as a blank slate and make whatever she wants of it.

Why linger on the future when she has so much more to experience in the present?

“I just take things one day at a time, you know? I just want to get better every day, enjoy my time here and let the future happen when it happens,” said James.