December 18, 2019

Sparked by James’ All-Around Offensive Game, Stuart Hoops Rolls to Win Over Hun, Now 3-2

A-PLUS: Stuart Country Day School basketball player Aleah James dribbles upcourt in a game earlier this season. Last Wednesday, junior guard James scored a game-high 22 points to help Stuart defeat Hun 73-35. The Tartans, now 3-2, are next in action when they compete in the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, Ariz. from December 18-21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Aleah James put her nose to the grindstone in an effort to become more of an all-around offensive threat this winter for the Stuart Country Day School basketball team.

“I have been working on my shot more; I am really trying to consistently hit threes this season and work on my outside game,” said junior guard James. “I am also looking to get easy points off of steals.”

James displayed her offensive skill set last Wednesday, tallying a game-high 22 points, including four 3-pointers, as Stuart pulled away to a 73-35 win over Hun.

Coming off an 84-38 loss to Blair two days earlier, James and her teammates were fired up to jump on the Raiders.

“Our mindset was just to bring the energy no matter what because we have the talent, we have the players,” said James, reflecting on a contest which saw the Tartans jump out to a 25-10 lead heading into the second quarter. “We have everything so as long as we brought the energy we were fine.”

Applying a full-court press, the energy Stuart displayed at the defensive end helped set the tone.

“Defense is our strong suit this season, especially pressuring the ball to get our points easily,” added James.

Over the rest of the game, Stuart was able to fine-tune things as it gets ready to compete in the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, Ariz. from December 18-21.

“The second half was about securing the game basically; working our offense and preparing for our games ahead,” said James.

With Stuart having won two straight state Prep B titles, the squad is looking for more hardware this winter.

“This year we are going for MCTs and Preps of course,” said James. “We leave for Arizona in a few days so we expect to win there too.”

Stuart head coach Justin Leith liked the way his team got going against Hun.

“We saw improvement today which is good but it is not where we want to be,” said Leith.

“We had improvement on the little things; forget about score, it was specifically defense. I think that the defense set the tone and that is what it should be every game for us. We should set the tone there and if our shots fall, they do and if they don’t, they don’t but at least that is consistent.”

Leith is thrilled with how much James has improved. “This is our fifth game; we have had scrimmages and we see improvement of her from last year to this year in her shooting and finishing,” said Leith.

“Her shot is markedly improved. She is consistent with it. We can rely on her with that but also she gets  down on the fast break. It doesn’t matter the size, she is able to finish. I think it helps that we have two big girls [Laila Fair and Ariel Jenkins] at practice that she finishes against.”

Junior forward Fair came up big in the second half against Hun, ending up with 11 points.

“Things weren’t falling for Laila or for Ariel the way that they usually do,” said Leith, who got 15 points from junior guard Nia Melvin in the win with senior guard Jasmine Hansford chipping in 10.

“Usually we are able to really hammer it home inside, even against a zone because of the height advantage but shots were not falling. Laila came out in the second half and picked it up.”

As the Tartans head west for the Phoenix event, Leith is looking for his players to keep picking it up.

“I am happy with our effort today; I thought we slowed a little bit on Monday,” said Leith.

“We had a game against St. Andrews last week (a 49-45 loss on December 6). At one point we were up 15 and when we got hit in the mouth we didn’t respond,” said Leith. “I thought today we remained consistent which was good.”

James, for her part, is seeing consistent progress so far from the team as it has tweaked things to utilize the height that Fair and Jenkins bring to the paint.

“We had to adjust a bit but I think it is there now; we are looking for the opposite side after posting up,” said James.

“Our chemistry is there too, since we have all returning players except for Ariel. Once we get fully adjusted, we are going to be competitive.”