By Jamie Thomas
One of the most undervalued qualities in sport is longevity – especially when it brings a fantastic amount of success with it.
When the Plymouth Raiders next take to the court, their Head Coach Paul James will achieve a feat of longevity never before seen in this league, and it’s fair to say Coach James has certainly had his fair share of success to go with that feat, too!
Yes, when the Raiders face off with the Worcester Wolves on February 24th in the BBL Trophy, James will take charge of his 1,000th BBL game, and we caught up with him recently to discuss the milestone moment.
“If someone had told me back when I started that I’d still be going after 1,000 games I would have thought they’d be out of their mind!” James said. “You just don’t do that sort of thing, do you? Especially to be in one league for just four teams … I’d have thought they were crazy to be honest!
“I’d never really thought about that milestone before this season when people started telling me about it. It’s certainly not something I ever set out to do, and sitting here talking about it now it does make me think ‘wow, that’s quite an achievement.’
“I thought I might coach for a few years and seen what I did afterwards, so to have had this longevity, to have had some success to do that in different places, the journey has been an absolute joy and it’s flown by to be honest. To be coming up to my 1000th game just sounds nuts when I say it out loud!”
“It was an opportunity I couldn’t afford to turn down.”
James had longevity as a player, too, competing for over 15 years in the BBL before transitioning into coaching. Having always enjoyed the community work that came with being a pro player, James took on the role of Thames Valley Tigers’ second team Head Coach whilst considering retiring from playing and ‘had so much enjoyment’ doing that.
In his 23rd season as a Head Coach, James admits he is a ‘very different coach now’ to when he first started. Then one of few British coaches in the league, James went straight from playing to being the full-time Head Coach at Thames Valley Tigers, confessing he was ‘amazed’ to be offered the job.
“I don’t think I was quite ready, but it was an opportunity I couldn’t afford to turn down. For the first few years I was a bit of a maniac, chasing referees around, pulling and pushing players to get my point across, but once I started to get those wins under my belt, developing my philosophy, I settled down and I’m a lot calmer now than I was.
“I’ve always wanted to produce championship teams. I was successful at Thames Valley, I had success with the Guildford Heat and was able to take them to Europe too. With Worcester we were able to win their first trophies whilst I was there and I want to do the same with Plymouth.
“This will probably be my last club, but it is one that has always had fantastic support and sponsorship. They perhaps haven’t had the success they should have over the years, so hopefully I can be around long enough now to make sure that in my time they win some titles.”
“To win in that manner for my first game was nuts.”
To pick an individual game out of the 999 so far in James’ coaching career as a highlight is some task, but nonetheless the veteran coach picked managed it and, unsurprisingly, it was an epic one.
“One game that will always stand out for me is my very first game as Thames Valley Tigers Head Coach, when we played at the MEN Arena in Manchester in front of 10,800 people. Nick Nurse was coaching that game, too.
“Of the 10,800 in the arena, we took about five supporters with us and we ended up winning that game on the buzzer, so you could hear a pin drop in there which was just amazing. To see that many people there and to win in that manner for my first game was nuts, and an outstanding memory.
“All of my championship wins are very special to me and going into Europe with Guildford Heat was an unbelievable experience. I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved with some great teams. I feel very, very blessed but something I still want to do is bring silverware to the Raiders because they thoroughly deserve it and I hope I can do it before long.”
“I think we can do it this year.”
Sitting in fourth place in the BBL Championship at present and looking to progress in the BBL Trophy to the semifinals if they can overcome Worcester this week, the potential for some success this season is very much in the Raiders’ hands.
James’ side only seem to be getting better too, after adjusting to the major setback of losing Andrew Lawrence for the long-term, and the veteran coach certainly feels silverware is possible this term.
“Realistically, I think we can do it this season. We’ve been in almost every game and we’ve beaten London and Newcastle on the way. We’ve dropped some silly games, but we have a real buy-in from everyone now so if we play with that energy and stick to our plans, I think we have a chance.
“It’s a great group of players and any one of them from one through 10 can start, which is a challenge to manage but it is all part of coaching – especially when we’ve got guys throughout the squad who could go and probably start on any other team in the league and get lots of minutes.
“We spent a lot of time this summer putting the team together because chemistry was going to be very, very important for us. It was clearly built around Andrew Lawrence being here, so that hit us hard a little bit, but we’ve got a settled team now and I think we can make a real good run at it.”
“It is really important to … establish what you want to get out of coaching.”
As you may remember if you caught our season preview with Ashley Hamilton, he glowingly praised his relationship with James and cited it as a key reason for joining the Raiders this summer, and the importance of building relationships isn’t lost on James.
Who better to take advice from about coaching than James, given all his experience? He outlined what advice he would give to new or aspiring coaches looking to make an impact in basketball.
“Be true to yourself. Sometimes coaches want to follow latest trends and follow somebody else, but it is really important to learn your own mind, your own values and establish what you want to get out of coaching, above all else.
“Early in my coaching career, I really coached in a way just to prove a point, because I really didn’t know myself or my philosophy and just wanted to prove something, but once I had figured those things out I was just true to that.
“Treating people how you expect to be treated is a really important aspect, at whatever level you’re coaching. Even now, I carry the balls, the water bottles, I’ve always got my hands dirty and will continue to do so. Be hard-working, be honest with your players and believe in what you’re doing, believe in your players, help them believe in themselves and give them achievable goals.”