May 6, 2012

Tillman to Thompson

Kevin McCarthy

6-foot-6 James Tillman could make magic on both the football field and basketball court. He chose to pursue the latter at Cosumnes River College and that decision has resulted in him landing a scholarship from a California Collegiate Athletic Association school.

photo of James Tillman

The 6-foot-6 sophomore, originally out of Pioneer High in Woodland, defines the word athlete -- long, bouncy, quick and atmospheric tester when he takes to jumping. A post in the prep ranks, he was positioned at the four last season but got playing time at the three in 2011-12. In 26 games for Coach James Giacomazzi, Tillman scored 13.8 points a game, shooting 52% overall and 60% from the foul line. He passed for 78 assists, was second on the team with 27 steals and his 31 blocked shots topped the Hawks. Oh yes, he also led in dunks.

That production, including a 46-point outburst against Mendocino College, produced interest and then a scholarship from Cal State University Los Angeles (CSULA). The basketball program there is headed by none other than Stephen Thompson, the southern California native who was part of the Syracuse squad from 1987-90 that won two Big East titles and lost in the 1987 national championship game when Indiana's Keith Smart hit that iconic last-second jumper.

So why Thompson and CSULA for Tillman?

"They have a nice style of play, really running up and down the court," Tillman explained. "Plus, Coach Thompson really wanted me."

What he sees as his primary assets are "I'm a scorer and I play really hard."

Here's Giacomazzi on Tillman: "James is a tremendous athlete and has really worked hard to become a complete basketball player. As a freshman, we played him inside because of his ability to score around the basket and his ability to defend smaller or bigger players. As a sophomore, we moved him to the perimeter because we believed that's where he would play at the four year level so it didn't make sense to keep him inside. James has come a long way academically and fundamentally and we think he will be a great addition to a talented CSULA roster."

Two of CSULA's three leading scorers are graduating so there will be a need for point production replacement.

But there is also that passing talent. One of the reasons Tillman compiled 78 assists as a non-backcourter "is because I draw a lot of defenders to me and then kick out the ball."

He is looking to major in kinesiology, with a backup plan of becoming a sports trainer if playing-for-pay concludes or doesn't pan out.

Northern members of the CCAA are Cal State East Bay, Cal State Monterey Bay, Cal State Stanislaus, Chico State, Humboldt State, San Francisco State and Sonoma State so there will be plenty of convenient viewing opportunities for Tillman's family and friends to continue watching their son.