VERMILLION, S.D. | Life is a little more hectic these days for Joey James.
Burning the candle at both ends, the University of South Dakota’s interim head men’s basketball coach barely finds time to spend with his family.
That’s the way it is, however, when you’re an NCAA Division I basketball coach.
James, 37, was named interim head coach on Sept. 6 after the sudden and surprise resignation of Dave Boots.
Since then, he’s been trying to play catchup, readying a young squad for the 2013-14 season that tips off Nov. 9 at St. Bonaventure.
“I’ve been asked by a lot of people if it (Boots’ resignation) caught me off guard,” James said. “It did and it didn’t. I knew at some point he would retire but I didn’t think it would be this year. I think he was just ready to be done, to go on to the next phase of his life.
“I had mixed feelings because he’s a guy I’ve been with the last 10 years, a guy I played for, so I didn’t know what to think. On one side, I was thinking, what is the next step for this program? But on the other side of it, I was thinking I would love to have the opportunity to coach this team, to be a part of the university I graduated from.”
James, a Bellevue, Neb., native, played for the Coyotes for two seasons from 1997-99 and has been Boots’ top assistant for the past 10 seasons. USD reached the NCAA Division II tournament in each of James’ first five seasons on the staff. The team has a 194-112 record with seven 20-win seasons and two conference championships with James on its bench.
Boots stepped down after 25 seasons as head coach.
“This is a young but feisty group that’s been a lot of fun to be around,” said James, who conducted his first official practice on Sept. 30. “Eight of our 13 kids are underclassmen and seven have never put on a college uniform. That will be a challenge, but I have a ton of belief in these guys because they hate to lose.
“We’re going to have to deal with some adversity but I know these guys are up to the challenge of taking the next step to compete for a Summit League championship.”
Because James has been involved in all aspects of USD basketball over the past decade, the transition has been smooth.
“The greatest thing about Coach Boots is that he allowed me to have a very vocal voice in practice,” James said. “These guys have heard my voice before, both good and bad, and they’ve adjusted very well. It’s been a smooth transition to this point.”
James does have the luxury of four returning starters, including 6-foot-10 senior Trevor Gruis, entering his fourth season as a starter. Brandon Bos, a 6-1 junior guard, had a strong sophomore season while both Kasey Kasperbauer (6-1) and Tyler Flack (6-7) started as freshmen a year ago.
“With four so-called returning starters, they have been through the trenches, now we just have to get these guys caught up,” James said. “We need to get these guys some game action to see where we’re at.”
Karim Rowson, a 6-5 senior, also saw action on last year’s squad that finished 10-20. The rest of the probable rotation, however, have yet to put on a Coyote uniform.
Sophomore Trey Norris, who sat out last year after transferring from North Texas, is fighting for the starting point guard spot along with Rico Thompson, a 6-2 true freshman from Stillwater, Okla. Adam Thoseby, a 6-5 wing from Henely-on-Thames, England, played one season at Utah State and also sat out last year as a transfer. Tavian Pomlee is a 6-5 junior from Davenport, Iowa (Central High School) who played two seasons at Iowa Western Community College.
Then there’s Tyler Larson, a highly talented 6-foot-3 guard who was expected to start last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury just before the season began. Larson has just been cleared to play and practiced for the first time on Wednesday.
“My biggest challenge is how am I going to manage 10 or 11 guys, that will be the big thing,” James said. “It is so wide open that I couldn’t even tell you who would be starting if we had a game right now. I have a decent inkling of what I would like to do but practice has been so competitive with three or four guys battling for positions. Nobody has earned their spot.”
A big plus, according to James, is the new NCAA rule that allows teams to go back 42 days prior to their first game and then get 30 practices leading up to the opening game.
The Coyotes have a closed scrimmage Oct. 27 at Drake and are looking to possibly pick up another scrimmage before heading to the East Coast. USD plays at St. Bonaventure on Nov. 9 and at Canisius in Buffalo, N.Y., two days later.
Two more road games at Wyoming on Nov. 22 and Texas State Nov. 25 precede the home opener Nov. 30 against Graceland University.