A legend’s legacy: Remembering the ‘Flying Fish of Fujiyama’

Sunday, Aug. 9, 2009

 

SPORTS SCOPE

Swim legend Furuhashi inspired Japan at tough time

 

Japan Times column

There are historical icons in every nation. But only a few individuals can be considered symbols of a nation’s collective psyche during a particular era. 

This is Hironoshin Furuhashi’s legacy.

The “Flying Fish of Fujiyama” died at the age of 80 last Sunday in his hotel room in Rome. While in the Italian capital, the Japan Swimming Federation’s honorary president had a front-row seat at Stadio del Nuoto during the hot, humid days to watch the exploits of Michael Phelps, Junya Koga and others at the 12th FINA World Championships.

“That was really his style — to be a part of the swimming world until the last day,” Masanori Takaya, the Tokyo 2016 Bid Committee’s manager of international communications, said during a Friday phone conversation.

Indeed, Furuhashi’s never-wavering support for the sport was on display until the very end of his life. 

“He was one of the great motivators after World War II,” journalist Hideki Mochizuki told me on Tuesday.

“Obviously, he’s a hero. I believe that’s a fact.”

Mochizuki said there are historical parallels between Furuhashi and a beloved ex-ballplayer known throughout the archipelago as Mr. Giants.

“He’s as big as (Shigeo) Nagashima in baseball,” said Mochizuki, who pens a swimming column for Asahi Shimbun and also writes for Swimming World Magazine.

In addition to his record-shattering feats in the pool, Furuhashi had served as a member of FINA, swimming’s world governing body, since 1968, including his most recent role as vice president. He also held a number of positions within the Japan Swimming Federation, including the presidency at one time (beginning in 1985).

As president of the Japanese Olympic Committee from 1990 until 1999, he stepped into the position after the tenure of business tycoon Yoshiaki Tsutsumi and steered the organization during the buildup to the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.

In the past several days, prominent leaders have issued statements that captured the essence of Furuhashi’s impact on Japanese society. These words reveal the strong emotional connection Furuhashi has had with several generations of Japanese.

“Hearing the sad news, I can’t believe it. We are very upset,” said Tsunekazu Takeda, the JOC president. “Furuhashi was a model citizen for us and the pride of the Japanese sports world. He had been making the best effort to help us bid for the 2016 Olympic Summer Games.”

Dr. Ichiro Kono, the chair and CEO of Tokyo 2016 said: “Mr. Furuhashi is a legend in Japan. He is our greatest ever sportsman, and his incredible achievements that brought hope and inspiration to millions of people will live on. . . . He became a symbolic figure of courage and pride for all Japanese, representing a rising sun in post-war Japan.” 

He added: “We were humbled by Mr. Furuhashi’s active support for our Tokyo 2016 Olympic bid. Even during the FINA Swimming Championships, we talked every day and he kept encouraging us to drive forward.

“Knowing that the Flying Fish of Fujiyama was at our side gave us great confidence that we could achieve our nation’s ultimate dream — to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

On Nov. 3, 2008, Furuhashi was one of six recipients of the Order of Culture at the Imperial Palace. Fittingly, the honor, given at a Culture Day event, was bestowed upon him by Emperor Akihito. Two Nobel laureates in physics were among the other honorees.

Furuhashi, who comfortably blended in with luminaries from all walks of life, was surrounded by appropriate company that day. But it was not his crowning achievement; it was simply an appropriate honor that reminded a nation of his historical relevance.

 

* * * * *

 

Born on Sept. 16, 1928, in Shizuoka Prefecture, Furuhashi would earn great fame two decades later when U.S. journalists dubbed him the “Flying Fish of Fujiyama” during the 1949 U.S. national championships in Los Angeles.

He first gained recognition for his swimming exploits in his homeland, setting a non-recognized world record in the 400-meter freestyle in 1947.

In 1948, Furuhashi and his compatriots didn’t compete in the London Olympics due to IOC sanctions handed down after World War II. But that couldn’t keep Japan from staging the now-famous “Beat The Olympics” extravaganza at a Tokyo pool.

Nor could it stop Furuhashi from posting headline-grabbing victories in the 400 and 1,500 freestyle races, completing both in times that were superior to that year’s Olympic winners’ times and the then-world records. Neither record was recognized, though, as the Tokyo meet was not considered an official event.

A year later, the world was forced to take notice of Furuhashi’s extraordinary skills.

In August of ’49, Furuhashi set world records while competing against top-notch competition in the 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyle races in L.A. In doing so, he gave his fellow Japanese a much-needed dose of good news and a belief in their ability to succeed, winning those races in 4 minutes, 33.3 seconds, 9:35 and 18:19.

Then, in 1950, Furuhashi showcased his scintillating skills in front of the home fans in Tokyo, going up against Australian standout John Marshall, Hawaiian nisei Ford Konno and U.S. dynamo John MacLane.

In a well-delivered chronicle of the 400-meter freestyle final, Time magazine included this description in its Aug. 14, 1950, issue:

“The crowd was on its feet screaming, ‘Furuhashi, gambare (Furuhashi, fight hard)! The hometown boy chop-chopped to a furious pitch, splashed past Marshall at the 350-meter mark (and) . . . won by 10 yards (9.1 meters).”

Furuhashi outperformed his foes in the 800, too, beating Konno with plenty of room to spare (by 2.74 meters).

In a nutshell, that meet proved that Furuhashi was one of the world’s elite athletes, and the Flying Fish of Fujiyama won both races in world-record setting times.

All told, it’s been said he set 33 world records during a swimming career cut short due to World War II and its aftermath.

He made his Olympic debut at the 1952 Helsinki Games, but failed to deliver the type of performance — world records, gold medals — that had been his trademark. He placed eighth in the 400-meter freestyle two years after getting dysentery while training in South America.

At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Furuhashi had his first prominent position in sports administration, gaining valuable experience in his role as the secretary of the Japan delegation chief. He also spent a number of years as a professor of physical education and swimming at Nihon University.

 

* * * * *

 

Looking back on the JOC’s collective efforts to host the 1964 Tokyo Games during an interview that appeared in a Tokyo 2016 promotional package, Furuhashi reflected on the significance of that point in Japan’s history by expressing these thought-provoking remarks: “At that time, Japan was in the thick of post-war reconstruction, so along with the excitement of hosting the Olympic Games for the first time, it engendered an atmosphere that made us feel like we had to move forward and create a proper nation.

“We had to overcome many challenges in order to host the Olympic Games in that kind of atmosphere, but I think it was extremely meaningful.”

Furuhashi was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1967.

His ISHOF biography simply states, “Furuhashi was one of those rare competitors so far ahead of his competition that he set standards for all to copy.”

And at a time when most people have little — if any — interest in questioning the status quo, Furuhashi wasn’t afraid to speak his mind about the high-tech swimsuit controversy that has dominated the headlines in the past year.

“It’s not the swimsuit that matters. In my days, people swam in fundoshi (loincloths),” he was quoted as saying in 2008. “Everybody should swim in fundoshi.”

Well, of course, that idea won’t come to fruition, but it’s a valid point nonetheless.

It’s only natural that athletic records are broken over time, but some things remain timeless. Case in point: Swimmers from Japan’s younger generations learned valuable lessons about hard work and dedication from the sport’s elder statesman, too.

In a well-circulated story that appeared in numerous publications in recent days, Daichi Suzuki, the men’s 100-meter backstroke gold medalist at the 1988 Seoul Games, recalled a priceless bit of advice Furuhashi gave him.

“He told me to ‘swim until you become a fish’ when he encouraged me during my competitive years. I won’t forget that,” Suzuki once said.

The Flying Fish of Fujiyama has passed away, but his legacy will remain a vital part of Japan’s cultural identity for centuries to come.

 

Disgraceful decision

By Ed Odeven

Unlike numerous American players who fled from Japan after the March 11 twin natural disasters and Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant crisis, ex-coach Bob Pierce of the Akita Northern Happinets didn’t go anywhere. He reminded everyone that he had a job to do, and he did it.

In fact, all of his players under contract completed the season. And in their spare time the Happinets were actively involved in raising funds for Tohoku and conducted a number of hoop clinics and community projects throughout the region to raise people’s spirits.

Which is why it’s a complete disgrace that the Happinets fired Pierce after one season. Expansion teams don’t win 65 or 70 percent of their games. It’s not realistic. The Happinets went 18-32 — not horrible, not great — but they now have something to build on for the future.

Pierce should’ve been given one more year to lay the foundation for the team’s future; they owed him that for his commitment to the team, the community and the league during a time of widespread suffering. The entire Happinets organization, including Pierce, worked tirelessly to help set the right example that sports matter during times of crisis.

Photographs showing the combined efforts of Akita and the Albirex made a powerful statement, too, that teams can be united for the common good. Just ask the Sendai 89ers about that.

While the Apache and Broncos ended their seasons early but pitched in to help with various fundraising efforts, Pierce’s team worked on both things simultaneously, knowing that they could be a force for good on and off the court and for the nation’s mental recovery as well.

The Happinets’ decision, however, regardless of the reason, smacks of a team seeking a quick fix (enter coaching star Kazuo Nakamura, the soon-to-be-named bench boss) and forgetting about common decency and respect.

This much is certain: This is a low point in Happinets history and will be a dark chapter in the team’s history for years to come.

Joe Torre the role model

This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on June 18, 2004.

Headline: Meaning of family not lost on Torre

By Ed Odeven
PHOENIX — We all know Sunday is Father’s Day. And, naturally, it should be a special day for dads.

Every other day should be just as special for their families.

Joe Torre, the New York Yankees manager, grew up in a Brooklyn family ravaged by domestic abuse. His father’s violent abuse was directed at his mother.

“I’m not sure I learned all the things that dads should do early on, unfortunately,” Torre said before Wednesday’s Yankees-Diamondbacks game at Bank One Ballpark.

That doesn’t mean Torre hasn’t learned the importance of giving back to the community. As a popular figure in the Big Apple — guiding the Yankees to four World Series titles since 1996 will do that for you — people pay attention to what Torre has to say.

Two years ago, Torre and his wife, Ali, established the Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation. Its mission, according to the charity’s official Web site, is “to develop educational programs that will end the cycle of domestic violence and save lives.”

Movie director Tim Robbins will direct public-service announcements in the coming months to help raise awareness for the organization.

“We’re not a care provider, but we feel we’ve got to educate,” Torre says, “and let men and boys know there’s a word respect out there that has to be applied to all of us.”

LIVE AND LEARN

Torre was one of the National League’s top players in the 1960s-70s. A nine-time All-Star, Torre earned the 1971 NL MVP award by leading the the Senior Circuit with a .363 batting average and 137 RBIs. In 1977, he became the first player-manager in the big leagues since 1959, taking over as the New York Mets’ field general. He also managed the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals before becoming the Yankee skipper in 1996.

In retrospect, Torre admits his personal success often came at the expense of his family life. Quite simply, he says, he was too into himself.

“I was very irresponsible, and I think it shows by my not really being as good a father as I could’ve been,” he says. “But you change. As long as you still have time on the clock, keep working toward those goals.

“Hey, you get older, and you become more sensitive to things and become more aware of things. You realize there’s somebody else in the world besides you.”

In 1999, Torre was diagnosed with prostate cancer and then underwent successful surgery. Since then, he has vowed to live life to the fullest, and with no regrets.

“Do it today, because you know you have it,” he says.

Torre’s mantra especially applies to his third wife, Ali, and the youngest of his four children, 8-year-old Andrea Rae. No matter what, family comes first now.

On May 1, Torre didn’t go to work. He didn’t sit in his customary spot in the dugout and didn’t watch his ballclub face the Kansas City Royals in the Bronx. He had something more important to do that day: attend Andrea Rae’s first holy communion.

Torre told the Yankees of his family commitment weeks in advance, and so pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and third base coach Willie Randolph handled the managerial duties that day. It was an admirable gesture by Torre, one that hasn’t been overlooked.

“It was great to be there, but knowing how much my daughter appreciated my being there was more important than my enjoyment,” he says.

Randolph commended Torre’s actions.

“To me, family should always come first anyway,” Randolph says. “We all have our responsibilities but you want to make sure that your kids remember special days and it was a special occasion what he did for her.

“That’s the way it should be. … He’s our leader, he sets the tone and a lot of guys follow his lead.”

And even though the Yankee players see Torre day in and day out at the work, they realize how important his family is to him away from the ballyard.

“Just by his demeanor, you could tell he cares about his family” was Yankee star Derek Jeter’s assessment.

EASYGOING JOE

By all accounts, Torre is one of the most approachable managers in the game, for fans and the press.

He might not be as highly regarded as Yankee legend Yogi Berra or Yogi’s lifelong pal Joe Garagiola Sr. for his storytelling skills, but Torre relishes the thought of passing time before games in the dugout, recollecting baseball lore from last week or many years ago.

On Wednesday, in front of a throng of more than three dozen reporters, Torre talked about the post-1996 World Series celebrations and riding with Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, in a car on a parade route around the city.

“They all cheered me,” Torre recalls, “and half of them cheered him. And I said to him, ‘Now I know why you brought me along.'”

The discussion then turned to a medical bandage he was wearing on one of his fingers, the result of a domestic accident: he was bitten by his golden cocker spaniel, Geena.

“She had a chicken bone and I tried to wrestle it away from her,” he says, smiling.

Clearly, Joe Torre is a man comfortable with his life — at work and at home.

Sunday notice

Visit The Japan Times basketball page for Sunday’s web exclusive Hoop Scoop column on the top players in bj-league history.

As an aside, let me say that the greatest forces for change are those who are willing to consistently speak their mind regardless of the consequences or those who they may tick off.

In that regard, Isaac Sojourner would be worthy of a lifetime achievement award if the Japan Basketball Association had any common sense. It’s the notion here, too, he’s a great ambassador for the game in Japan. If only the powers-that-be were willing and able to work with him, I think a lot of good could come from it.

Who are a few others with the brains and courage to make huge changes for the sport here in Japan? Let me know.

(Angie Taylor hit the nail on the head when talking about Isaac’s passion to spread the game of the basketball in the right way. Read about this in the latest Hoop Scoop.)

Some things don’t change

By Ed Odeven
Summer of 2010

Every other e-mail or conversation regarding the bj-league includes at least a few words about the league’s financial woes.

And yet there’s a mad rush to keep expanding — three new teams for the 2010-11 season and more on the way the year after that.

Sure, the league needs the infusion of cash that new teams bring, but is the current business model really sustainable?

It appears 11 of the 16 teams will have new head coaches in 2010-11. Yes, sometimes change is good, but wholesale changes reflect badly on the league.

The circuit’s basic structure screams for some semblance of stability. Commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi and others in charge have not provided it.

And it starts with player development, and not enough of that is taking place in college.

By expanding so often and so quickly, the talent level, especially among the league’s Japanese players, is getting watered down.

As one coach said in a recent interview, “The players at the tryout camp were by far the lowest level in the three years I’ve been going, maybe the worst ever.”

In other words, the league is expanding too quickly.

And its long-term survival is becoming doubtful at this point.

Photographer Marina Shacola’s Olympic odyssey

This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Aug. 12, 2004.

An Olympic journey for the ages

By Ed Odeven

You will be bombarded with human-interest story after human-interest story for the next 16 days. It happens every Olympiad. This is the downside of having countless hours of TV coverage.

How many of these stories will you actually remember? Five, maybe 10. It’s mind-numbing overexposure.

Well, my friends, this story isn’t one of those dime-a-dozen, force-it-down-your-throat stories. Nope. Not by any stretch of the imagination. This, I believe, just might be the most fascinating — or certainly in the top one percentile — of all stories associated with the 2004 Athens Games.

This is one woman’s remarkable journey of Olympic discovery. It began in India in April 2003 and ended in Ghana in May 2004. In between, Greek Cypriot photographer Marina Shacola visited 25 countries on five continents — well, for this project the Americas are considered one continent. (The Olympic flame, by the way, traveled to 26 countries in its 2004 globetrotting adventures.)

Eight-hundred and twenty-five rolls of film later, Shacola had the basis for a fascinating, bilingual (Greek and English) book. “Athlos” features 135 photographs of the 25 Olympic-caliber athletes Shacola shot, using black and white and color film. Interestingly enough, “Athlos” has two meanings in ancient Greek — “great achievement” and “training.”

“I called it this way because these athletes, and every athlete who trains at this high level in order to achieve their dream, have already accomplished a great achievement — regardless of whether they make it to the Olympic Games or not,” Shacola said Monday in a telephone interview from her hometown of Nicosia, Cyprus.

Twenty-two of the 25 athletes she visited made their respective Olympic teams. The 25 subjects represent a blend of up-and-coming athletes and reigning world champions, from well-known nations (U.S., Brazil, South Africa) and obscure countries (Samoa, Micronesia, Nauru).

A former member of the Cypriot women’s national basketball team, Shacola said she wanted to do something special for the 2004 Olympics to honor her Greek heritage.

That’s what prompted the idea for this book, which was published recently.

“It was quite difficult for me at the beginning,” Shacola said. “I had to also find someone to help me contact the athletes.”

Assistance from the Cyprus Olympic Committee was priceless. The association’s president contacted the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland, and the IOC hired Shacola to create this book. The IOC helped Shacola with her research for the book and in contacting various Olympic committees around the world.

Even so, there was plenty of stress for Shacola and Andreas Antoniou, Shacola’s artistic supervisor, during this time-consuming project.

“I had to worry a lot (about finances),” Shacola said. “It was quite difficult to get money. But I was very lucky again, because British Airways and Cyprus Airways were my sponsors.”

Eastman Kodak provided her with all those rolls of 35 mm film for the book.

“Right until the very end, I didn’t know if I would manage to complete this project, because … from the beginning it was too difficult,” Shacola said.

First stop: Asia. Why? “Because it was most difficult for me in terms of problems with language and so on,” she said. “Right until May 2004, the last country I had been to was Ghana, and the concept was not complete.”

Shacola spent, on average, around a week in each of the 25 nations. After India, she went to Malaysia, South Korea and Japan in succession.

Little by little, Shacola saw the project taking shape and she began to revel in the emotion of making progress.

“It was like a big celebration,” she said with a delightful giggle. Then she described her mind-set along the way. “OK, 20 (countries left), 15 left, three left!”

China presented the biggest challenge to Shacola. Due to the SARS outbreak of 2003, she rescheduled her trip to China three times. Talk about persistence.

“It was too much. I couldn’t risk it. If I got stuck in China, then the whole project was toast,” she said.

She finally managed to make it to China in March and met Liqin Wang, a reigning Olympic gold medalist in men’s table tennis (doubles) in Beijing.

On the cover of the book is Athens resident Pericles Iacovakis, a bronze medalist in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2003 World Track and Field Championships.

“Actually, I didn’t want to put him on the cover of the book,” Shacola revealed, “because I didn’t want the Greek guy to be there just because it’s the Olympics in Athens.”

But, in the end, Shacola decided a photo of Iacovakis was the perfect choice for the cover.

“The reason I like it is because he represents exactly what the athlete is all about and for me also the true Olympic spirit, which is: The moment when he’s resting, when he looks tired — some people will say he’s fainting with eyes shut, with mouth half open — and for me that’s representative of the life of each athlete,” Shacola said as the inflection of her voice grows more excited with each syllable.

“We are used to looking at athletes the moment before they either run, if they are an athlete in track, or if they play in the game, when it’s the most beautiful moment, with the beautiful clothes. But the athlete is not that. The athlete is all the time before he reaches that moment, which is all that very, very hard work until he manages to get on the track, or, for example, before the starting point.

“For me, this is what the whole Olympic spirit is about: How everybody is fighting to surpass their own limits.”

Australian swimmer Grant Hackett, the reigning gold medalist in the men’s 1,500-meter freestyle who trained at Northern Arizona’s High Altitude Sports Training Complex in May and June, is featured in the book.

Others who grace the pages of the book include: Romanian gymnast Monica Rosu (the 2004 European Championships gold medalist); Moroccan boxer Tahar Tamsamani (a bronze medalist in the 57-kilogram weight class in 2000); Brazilian beach volleyball star Sandra Pires; Seychellois sailor Alain Julie; Ghanan soccer captain Yussif Chibsah; Russian water polo goalkeeper Valentina Vorontsova; Cuban volleyball captain Yumilka Ruiz; and Samoan judo performer Travolta Waterhouse.

Also included in the book are photos of perennial NBA All-Star point guard Jason Kidd, who turned down a spot on the American basketball squad for personal reasons. (He was very cooperative during the photo shoots, she said.)

This was an exhausting undertaking, but one that Shacola will never forget. Was it the most rewarding project of her life?

“Definitely, but I hope it won’t be the last,” said Shacola, whose work is featured in an Athens exhibition until the end of the Summer Games.

Patience, an open mind and a kindred spirit carried Shacola as she worked around the globe. Interpreters played a big role, too.

As she looks back on her travels, she offered this insight into the project:

“I don’t think I have recovered from the experience yet, and I hope I will never recover. I think the experience has changed me. I think people have more differences and more similarities than we think. And I was very glad to find out that yes, people are different, and that makes them all so much more interesting.”

On Thursday, Shacola traveled to Athens, where she’s attending the Olympics as a spectator. And it’s obvious she can hardly wait.

How excited is she?

“Too much. I think I’m going to take part. I think I’m actually one of the athletes,” she said, laughing.

She’s not an Olympian, but she produced a magical book about Greece’s wonderful gift to civilization.

Now she deserves a break from work.

Commentary piece on LeBron from his senior year in high school … 2002

Prep star James proves hype is justified

By: Ed Odeven

Arizona Daily Sun

Thursday, December 12, 2002 11:00 pm

Believe the hype.

LeBron James is that good.

In a rare nationally televised high school game Thursday night — the first shown live in 13 years — in something dubbed the Progressive High School Classic at Cleveland State’s Convocation Center, countless sports fans across the country got to see with their own eyes why every coach, talent evaluator, agent and shoe company mogul salivate whenever they see James on a basketball court.

This is what they witnessed:

James carried the No. 23 St. Vincent-St. Mary (Akron, Ohio) High School basketball team to a 65-45 victory over the nation’s No. 1-ranked team, Oak Hill Academy of Virginia.

James showcased a full, polished repertoire of offensive moves, including fadeaway jumpers, spot-up three-pointers, getting open and gliding through traffic with a purpose, posting up with ease, finishing with a soft touch on shots in the paint.

James dunked with authority.

James crashed the boards for rebounds.

James followed up errant shots with putbacks.

James ran the floor with the graceful stride of a seasoned pro, with an exceptionally quick first step.

James fired no-look passes with the impeccable showmanship of Magic Johnson or Jason Kidd.

ESPN basketball commentator Jay Bilas calls James “the best high school basketball player I’ve ever seen. He’s more physically imposing than Kobe Bryant” was at the high-school level.

James, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound man-child, can play anywhere on the basketball court. Anytime. That’s why he’ll be the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft.

The senior, who led his school to state titles as a freshman and a sophomore, settled for jumpers on his first three shots, all misses.

Then he picked up his game and did what all great players do: make their teammates better. He zipped a pass to a teammate. The shot was off the mark, but James wasn’t. He leaped up, grabbed an offensive rebound, and in the same motion, slammed it through the rim. That put the Fighting Irish ahead 10-5.

Moments later, James, alone on the fastbreak, brought the crowd to its feet with an explosive windmill jam, making the score 13-7.

In an exciting sequence of second-quarter events, James darted across the lane, running a backdoor cut to perfection and finished off the play with a muscular jam. Then after nabbing a defensive rebound, James dribbled up court, leading the 2-on-1 break. Without slowing down, stopping or turning around, James delivered a behind-the-back bounce pass to a teammate, who was fouled slashing to the hoop.

Longtime hoops announcer Dick Vitale, who makes his dough commenting on college ball, was thrilled by the pass. “Are you serious?” he shouted.

A few possessions later, James jammed again with three defenders surrounding him, giving the Fighting Irish a 23-20 lead.

St. Vincent-St. Mary led 30-25 at halftime.

Oak Hill, a team stacked with a roster of Division I-bound players, went on a 10-0 run to tie it at 37 midway through the third quarter.

James gave his team the go-ahead basket, 39-37, when he muscled his way inside for an easy deuce and hit the foul shot to complete the three-point play. After that, the Fighting Irish coasted to victory, beating a team they’d lost to in two previous meetings. In fact, it was only Oak Hill’s fourth loss in as many seasons.

James finished with 31 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and a couple steals and blocks for good measure.

As a junior, James averaged 29.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 3.3 steals per game. He says he can keep improving every day. That’s the type of attitude that helped propel guys like Magic and Michael Jordan to the superstar level as pros.

Before the game began, Vitale, a noted maestro of hyperbolic banter as well as accurate insight, offered this opinion:

“If he’s half as good as I’ve heard, he’ll be one special kid.”

He already is.