The first time Isaiah James steps on the court as a member of the Brandon University Bobcats men’s basketball team this season, he is sure to make an impact — when that will be, however, is still very much in question.
The American import, who is set to re-join the team on Tuesday after taking a year off, is entering his fourth year of eligibility, but an ankle injury three months ago while playing in a tournament in the United States will keep him off the floor at the beginning of the season.
"I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s disappointing and frustrating and it’s not how I wanted to come back," said James from his home in San Jose, Calif.
After undergoing ankle surgery shortly after the injury, that required nine pins be inserted into his right leg, James will begin the season in the fitness room working on strengthening and rehabilitating the joint.
"I’m going to take it slow and build my confidence in the ankle back up, but I expect to be back as soon as I can and it feels pretty good right now," James said.
The 6-foot-7 forward, who was named the Bobcats team MVP in 2010-11, is currently in a walking boot, but expects to pick up right where he left off, once he’s healthy.
"I believe I can help the team out and it’s a great city to come back to — even in the cold," James joked.
And although the temperature might be a little cooler than the San Jose native is used to, the warmth he felt from the Wheat City was a big reason he wanted to come back.
"I really built some strong relationships with the people during my time (in Brandon) and I really missed that," James said, adding that the bond he formed with Jordan Reaves was a big reason why he wanted to return to Brandon.
In his first season with the Bobcats, James garnered a reputation as a stopper in the Canada West conference, racking up 40 blocks and 42 steals while averaging 6.2 boards a game.
"He’s going to be one of the more exciting players to watch in the Canada West," Bobcats head coach Gil Cheung said. "He’s a great team guy and with his athletic ability and maturity on the court, he helps us right away."
Cheung also envisions a bigger role on the offensive side of the ball from James, who averaged 8.4 points per game in his first season.
"He can defend four positions on the court and with some of the pieces that we’ve added, we expect him to contribute on the offensive end," Cheung said.
But for Cheung, James’ priority will be on the defensive end as the cornerstone of a group that the Bobcats head coach believes is going to be a nightmare to play against for opposing players.
"I believe we can be one of the best defensive teams in the conference," Cheung said. "We have guys that can protect our hoop and protect the paint and that should allow us to extend pressure a little bit more."
"I expect our defence to ignite our offense," Cheung added.
And James might be fortunate that he’s missed the early part of Bobcats training camp, as Cheung has put his players through the ringer on the defensive end.
"We’re trying to sell these guys that our defence has to be there right from the start of the year in order to be successful," Cheung said.
The Bobcats begin the regular season Nov. 2 on the road against the Alberta Golden Bears and don’t play their first home game until Nov. 17 when they host the Winnipeg Wesmen at 7 p.m.