By Jacob Tiger
After their February 2018 quarterfinal loss to Grayson High School, Pebblebrook High School’s varsity basketball season came to an end, and after playing together for the last four years, it was time for Mervin James to part ways with his teammate and close friend, Dwight Murray Jr.
Murray took his talents to Incarnate Word in Texas for the first two years of his college career, before transferring to Rider, blossoming into a star for the Broncs in his first season at Rider.
Beginning the next chapter of his basketball career, James found himself at the University of North Alabama, where he was a starter as a freshman and sophomore, having a respectable amount of success for a young player.
As a sophomore, he averaged 14.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, and earned All-Atlantic Sun Second Team honors.
But despite his upward trajectory at North Alabama, James felt like he needed a change of scenery.
“I just felt like it was my time to move on, see what another coach had to offer. I don’t want to say they did anything wrong, I just felt like I needed to experience the world… I gave them what I gave them,,” said James.
With any number of paths in the NCAA Transfer Portal, one in particular was calling James’ name. A reunion with Murray at Rider just felt like the right thing to do.
“Me knowing [Dwight], I feel like I owe him because… [in] high school I shorted us out of the state championship, so I feel like I owe him personally… to help him win a MAAC championship,” said James.
Along with his self-appointed obligation to Murray, James cited Head Coach Kevin Baggett as a reason for his transfer.
“When I got on the phone, he [Baggett] was like, ‘We need you here,’ and I was like, ‘Aight cool,’” James said nonchalantly.
Standing at 6 feet, 7 inches, James instantly filled a need for Rider, occupying a vacant starting power forward spot. On Nov. 6 in an exhibition against Kutztown, he made his Bronc debut in front of an electric home crowd.
James introduced himself to the fans by scoring Rider’s first seven points of the evening, and “The Zoo” was sure to reward him with a serving of their rejuvenating, thunderous encouragement.
“It was embracing… it was just a great ‘home’ feeling to know that the crowd and atmosphere will be like that every night,” said James.
The name Mervin James echoed throughout Alumni Gym many more times that evening. James was efficient and effective in his Rider debut, finishing with 19 points on 53.3% shooting from the field and helping the Broncs secure a satisfying comeback win over Kutztown.
In conjunction with the duo of Murray and senior forward Dimencio Vaughn, James may be the piece that finally gets the Broncs over the hump and into the MAAC’s upper echelon of teams.
However, James was still uncertain whether or not transferring to Rider was the right decision for him, but it wasn’t something he was particularly worried about yet. In fact, as a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, he was just starting to adjust to life in New Jersey.
“I really don’t know… I’m a day-by-day guy. I just live,” said James. “It’s cool here. It’s a different experience… it’s cold up here. It’s colder than what I thought it was… I’m bundled up.”
Baggett comedically interjected, “You haven’t seen anything yet.”