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The Best Basketball Player In America?

Fri, Feb 22, 2008
By Dave Morrison
Posted by Jason Dannelly

Could it be that the best collegiate basketball player in America doesn’t have a cell phone?

James Spencer says he lost the one he had in Las Vegas several years ago when he was at Wyoming and he never felt the urge to replace it.

The Mountain State senior hasn’t had a problem getting the message out this season. Spencer, a 6-foot-4 wing, leads the nation is scoring (25.0) and is eighth nationally in field goal percentage at .589.

His 631 points are already No. 8 all-time for a season at MSU.

With at least seven games left, he is almost a lock —barring injury — to make it to No. 2, held by Brian Kidd, who had 717 points in 1997-98. Zack Moss holds the season record with 926 in 2004.

But that is just scratching the surface statistically.

Spencer also averages 4.6 rebounds and has 54 assists and 55 steals.

His 11-of-16 night (31 points) in a 94-75 win Tuesday over Voorhees is becoming commonplace.

Of course, none of this is new to Spencer, who received his first scholarship offer from West Virginia coach Bob Huggins when the coach was at Cincinnati.

He has had success at every level he has played. And now, he might just be at the top of the mountain.

Spencer and the No. 3 Cougars (25-1) host Ohio Northwestern tonight before Saturday’s highly anticipated matchup with No. 4 Lee (23-1).

That Spencer is the best player in the nation can be argued.

But you won’t find any detractors in the MSU camp.

“I played summer league with him; I knew he was going to be good,” point guard Jarvis Jackson said. “He’s an all-around player. Not only is he explosive on the offensive end, he also plays defense. I think he leads the team in steals (with 55).”

“He’s a pure scorer,” MSU coach Bob Bolen said. “He can score shooting the three, he can score getting to the rim. He can score in a variety of ways.

“He’s a hard matchup for other teams. He is usually stronger than the other team’s two guard and he is usually quicker than the other team’s three. He’s a difficult matchup.”

“I definitely feel like I am the best player in the nation,” Spencer said. “I have proved myself against guys who are playing in the NBA. I played with Baron Davis, Gilbert Arenas, Jordan Farmar, Paul Pierce, guys like that.”

His pedigree is peerless.

He led the state of California in scoring as a senior at Stoneridge Prep in Tarzana when he averaged 37 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. His team won a state title that year, going 36-1, and he had a game in which he scored 52 points.

In junior college at L.A. City Community, he led the team to a California JUCO championship.Originally recruited by Cincinnati, Georgetown and USC, among others, he attended Wyoming for a year. After his coach there was fired, his JUCO college coach, Mike Miller, advised that he go to an NAIA school to avoid sitting out a season. Having sent Tony Key to MSU two years ago, Miller was familiar with the Cougars’ reputation as a national power.

“I’m blessed to be here, really, and I just want to win the championship with these guys,” Spencer said. “It will be a wasted season if we don’t win the championship.”

Spencer said he experienced culture shock when he came to MSU. The cold weather was an eye-opener and so was the laid-back atmosphere. He admits not knowing “West Virginia was its own state.”

“Sometimes he still walks around with his tank top on like he’s still in Cali,” Jackson said. “Sometimes I want to ask him what’s wrong with him because it’s cold here.”

Spencer grew up near Inglewood, Calif., in the shadow of The Forum, the former home of the Lakers.

“My area was pretty rough,” Spencer said. “There was a lot of violence. A lot of gangs, shootings. You had to know what areas to go into and what areas not to go into. Basically be inside before the street lights came on. My mother (Ruby) had me surround myself with positive people. She was a big influence and she did a good job keeping me away from drugs and gangs. She was my eyes and kept me on the right track.”

Many youngsters, weaned on Kobe, Shaq and the Lakers, sprung from the area.

“There are a lot of great players who come out of Los Angeles, NBA all-stars,” Spencer said. “It’s definitely an inspiration, watching them play as a kid. They motivated me to play basketball.”

At one time, he was close to Gilbert Arenas and admits he got a lot of his moves in the paint from watching the self-proclaimed Agent Zero play. He’s learned well. Spencer has hit 190 of his 271 attempts from inside the three-point arc. He has about 50 dunks and an array of moves that are highlight worthy.

A lot of that comes from being the typical gym rat.

“We have one day off, on Sunday, and he’s at the YMCA shooting,” Bolen said. “I think he really enjoys basketball. Not just practice and the games. I think he enjoys his time alone in the gym.”

Not that he doesn’t have fun.

“At first, I thought he was a quiet person,” Jackson said. “Then when I got to know him, he’s just like me. A clown off the court, serious on the court. He stays right across the hall from me, so I see him more than some of the other guys. We watch a lot of college basketball, BET, stuff like that.

“Coming to NAIA from Division I, some people might be cocky because it’s a lower level,” Jackson continued. “But he hit it off with the guys well. Being the leader of the team, he’s handled it well.”

After hearing so much about the past players at MSU — especially those from the 2004 national championship team — Spencer would like to know where he stands at MSU.

“I’d like to see how I match up against some of the guys who have played here,” Spencer said. “We need an alumni game.”

“As far as a wing scoring in a variety of ways, he’s as good as anybody we’ve ever had,” Bolen said.

These days, Spencer is basically content in his current place. But he isn’t giving up his dream.

“I always think that if I had gone to Cincinnati out of high school, I’d probably be in the NBA right now,” Spencer said. “I think about that a lot. It’ll be harder to make it (to the NBA) out of the NAIA than the NCAA, but I’ll take what they give me. I’m not going to give up, though.”

He may want to reacquire a cell phone before that all goes down.