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Men’s mentor James to grow with Skyhawk gang

Men’s mentor James to grow with Skyhawk gang
Jason James will grow a little older in Martin.
James — at 33, the second-youngest Division I men’s head coach in the country last season — recently was given a four-year contract extension to remain in charge of the basketball program at UT Martin.
The Skyhawks tripled their win total (12) in James’ second season at the helm this past year and started three freshmen down the stretch when they upset Tennessee State in a first-round Ohio Valley Conference Tournament game.
James said the security of the new pact, which will keep him at UTM through the 2015 campaign, will be a huge boost in recruiting as the program looks to continue its climb into the league’s upper echelon.
“In college basketball, the big word in the recruiting game is ‘stability,’” he said. “Our guys (staff) have that luxury now because of the new contract.
“We can go into homes now and assure parents that we’re going to be there for all four of their son’s seasons if he’ll come and play for us. It’s huge for the player and his whole family.”
After spending seven years as a Skyhawk assistant — and serving as the associate head coach during UT Martin’s 2008-09 OVC championship season — James was named the school’s eighth head coach in June of 2009.
His highly-regarded recruiting prowess brought little-known Lester Hudson to campus prior to the 2007-08 season, with Hudson leaving two years later as the most highly-decorated player in history after twice winning league Player of the Year awards and leading the Skyhawks to the school’s first-ever OVC hoop championship and NIT berth.
After a 4-25 first season, during which UTM lost seven times by single digits and was forced to play several players out of position due to injury, James’ troops made significant progress in his second year in the lead chair on the Skyhawk bench.
A four-game conference winning streak in January put the team in position to qualify for OVC postseason tourney and the aforementioned 68-64 triumph over TSU in Round 1 represented just the second win in league tournament play since UT Martin joined the Division I ranks in 1992.
James said he expects his staff to remain intact, too, with assistants Cornelius Jackson, Dylan Dudley and Antwuan Holloway all in line to return in those roles next season.
“That’s huge from the standpoint that we have a good working relationship with each other and the players,” James said. “We’re all on the same page and that’s so critical.”
James and his staff signed two players during the early period and will likely add a third soon, he said.
Those newcomers will team with holdovers, including freshmen Terrence Smith, Mike Liabo and Troy King, who combined to average more than 32 points-per-game in their first season on the collegiate level last year.
“We got better every single day last year, and I’m looking for that type of work ethic and commitment from our returning players and the ones we’re bringing in,” James said of his 2010-11 squad. “The first time around the league, we struggled a bit, but we got increasingly comfortable with the style we needed to play.
“We were competitive almost every night out. And I believe we have a very promising future with the guys coming back and the newcomers we have.”
A new husband and father, too, since being named head coach at UTM, James’ life has admittedly changed dramatically in a whirlwind two-year period.
 “My life has changed so much for the better recently and Martin has been a big part of that,” he insisted. “I got my first head coaching job here. I met my wife here. And my daughter was born here.
“All of that happened in Martin and makes this a very special place in my life.”
It’s called home.

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