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Duquesne

Duquesne retires James' No. 13 jersey

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, 7:36 p.m.
Former Duquesne University basketball player, Mike James, of Houston, speaks to the crowd at the A.J. Palumbo Center when Duquesne University retired his number,  Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Former Duquesne University basketball player, Mike James, of Houston, speaks to the crowd at the A.J. Palumbo Center when Duquesne University retired his number, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017.
Former Duquesne University basketball player, Mike James, of Houston, reacts to the crowd at the A.J. Palumbo Center with his wife, Angela James when Duquesne University retired his number,  Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Former Duquesne University basketball player, Mike James, of Houston, reacts to the crowd at the A.J. Palumbo Center with his wife, Angela James when Duquesne University retired his number, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017.
Former Duquesne University basketball player, Mike James, of Houston, talks with well-wishers at the A.J. Palumbo Center when Duquesne University retired his number,  Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Former Duquesne University basketball player, Mike James, of Houston, talks with well-wishers at the A.J. Palumbo Center when Duquesne University retired his number, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017.
Former Duquesne University basketball player, Mike James, of Houston, watches a highlight real played on the scoreboard at the A.J. Palumbo Center with his wife, Angela James when Duquesne University retired his number, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Former Duquesne University basketball player, Mike James, of Houston, watches a highlight real played on the scoreboard at the A.J. Palumbo Center with his wife, Angela James when Duquesne University retired his number, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017.

Most NBA fans remember Kobe Bryant's 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006.

Not many could name the second-leading scorer in that game, but Duquesne never will forget him.

School officials made sure of that Wednesday night at Palumbo Center before the Fordham game when Mike James' No. 13 jersey was retired, honoring the Dukes player with the longest NBA tenure (12 years, 11 teams).

The 26 points James scored against the Los Angeles Lakers are only part of his story.

James played for Duquesne from 1995-98 before embarking on a far-flung professional career that took him to Austria, France, China and Turkey and the NBA Development League in 2015 at age 39.

James, 41, earned more than $32 million in his pro career, according to the Los Angeles Times, scoring 9.9 points per game in the NBA.

His career took root on an asphalt court in Amityville, N.Y., but may not have evolved if then-Duquesne assistant coach Danny Holzer had stayed out of Las Vegas.

“It's a bizarre recruiting story,” said Holzer, the longtime coach at Upper St. Clair.

Visiting Las Vegas in the summer of 1995, Holzer was watching an AAU tournament while seeking a player to fill out Duquesne's class.

He bumped into Gary Charles, James' AAU coach, who said he had a prospect playing in an Amityville park the next day. Holzer trusted Charles and flew east.

“My coach called me,” James said, recalling his conversation with Charles 22 years ago. “He said, ‘There's a team that wants to look at you,' ”

“Where is it?” James wanted to know.

“Duquesne.”

“Where's that?”

“Duquesne is Division I.”

“I said, ‘OK,' ”

One more thing, Charles said: “You better be there, and you better be on time.”

James kept the appointment, and Holzer only needed to watch for 20 minutes.

“I fell in love with him, called (Duquesne coach) John Carroll and said, ‘I'm going to bring him home with me,' ” Holzer said.

A little more than a month before the start of classes, James had a scholarship.

Holzer was drawn to James' quickness and strength and could tell he loved the game.

“He oozed with personality and confidence,” he said.

In three years at Duquesne, James scored 1,411 points (16th all-time at the school) with 348 assists (10th) and 201 steals (fourth).

James, a 6-foot-2 point guard, wasn't drafted by the NBA, instead playing in Austria, France and the Continental Basketball Association until he was signed by the Miami Heat in 2001.

He never played longer than two seasons in any NBA city and won a title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004.

Two years later with the Raptors, James became the first undrafted NBA player to average 20 points for a season (20.3). He said he remembers little from the Kobe game that year and, during an interview with the Tribune-Review, he never mentioned his 26 points.

A prouder moment came three years ago, before a game in Chicago, when one of his five daughters, Amaya Noel (then 11), received a standing ovation after singing the national anthem.

“Just the other day someone came up to me and said her voice is like a healer,” James said. “When she sings, it makes people feel better.”

His professional career ended in 2015 after playing for the Texas Legends of the NBA D-League.

“I was OK with leaving the game,” he said. “It had nothing to do with my body. I was ready to be with my family.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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