SLIAC; Looking Back is a weekly interview series each Thursday this summer with former players and coaches who made an impact during their time in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC). We hope you enjoy a look back through time and how the SLIAC played a role in who they are today. Today we speak with former MacMurray College two-sport athlete and current Highlander Women's Basketball and Men's Golf head coach Derek James (Class of 2003).
Derek James made the most of his time at MacMurray College; starring in two sports (basketball and golf). He was a three-time All-Conference performer in men's basketball and is MacMurray's all-time leader in three-point field goals and ranks in the top ten in scoring, assists, and steals. On the golf course James was named All-Conference twice; including being named the 2003 SLIAC Golf Player of the Year. He joined the Highlander Hall of Fame in 2009 and the SLIAC Hall of Fame in 2013. James enjoyed his time in Jacksonville so much that after graduting in 2003 he joined the Highlander coaching staff and is currently the head coach of the Women's Basketball program and the Men's Golf team.
You played both golf and basketball at MacMurray, was it difficult to go straight from basketball into golf?
"It was not a difficult task. I remember having plenty of time to concentrate on academics, working out for basketball, practicing golf, and still had time for social. It is just prioritizing your day and making a task list to accomplish. I didn't do the nap thing so that was a big time saver and allowed those 2-3 hours to be concentrated in other areas. Plus, with such a long basketball season, you looked forward to getting back on the course after a five month lay-off. Being that I loved both sports, I never wanted not to be doing one or the other."
What was a better feeling, knocking down a three or hitting a perfect golf shot?
"That is a good question. I rememer a lot of big shots I hit and I guess the one putt to win conference was a big memory. But, I would have to go with a big three because the crowd gives you those chills after you drain it. Not much of a gallery in golf."
You were a two-sport athlete in college, how do you feel about the debate with athletes today playing multiple sports or specializing in one sport?
"I believe a student-athlete who wants to partcipate in dual sports is a smart idea. This generation has become bogged down with the idea that if they concentrate on just one (sport), they have a better opportunity of earning the highest scholarships. While this may hold some validity, I believe only specializing in one sport does not allow student-athletes to build more relationships, experience more and do more in their college experience, and I believe it helps them become more marketable in their future endeavors. It shows that a student-athlete displays maturity, organization, and the ability to work harder with the amount that person takes on. Also, you just never know what could come from either sport. I was a baseball player and only recruited to college for that sport. But in college I participated in golf and basketball, and then went on to play professionally in golf. You can't limit the possible opportunities of these young athletes."
What are some of your fondest memories as a student-athlete at MacMurray?
"The memories came with the players, coaches, staff and faculty that I was able to associate with then and now. It was the trips to the games, the overseas trip that changed our program and changed our lives. It was the day I walked across that stage of Annie Merner Chapel more accomplished than I ever had in my life. Those were the memories that made being at Mac so special. The opportunity to compete day in and day out in the sports I loved and having coaches who cared enough to push us to our limits."
You have been a part of the SLIAC for 16 years, from a student-athlete to a coach. How have you seen the conference change over that time?
"Being involved over a long period of time with the SLIAC I have seen a very positive change. I feel that the conference has become more involved on a National level with community service work, and I feel the conference has done a very good job with recognizing athletes and paying special attention to each program and sport. The conference has done a great job spotlighting and highlighting student-athletes for achievements, but also just highlighting student-athletes in general. I believe the conference has allowed the student-athletes to be more involved in expressing needs to help build on the duties to provide a DIII experience."
Has determining what success means changed from your time as a student-athlete to today, being a coach?
"The meaning of success has changed. Back when I played I thought success was just winning games and losing was not an option, but now I realize what success is. It is getting a degree, working hard to be the best you possibly can be, and achieving your highest potential in the four years you are here. Our goal is to build our student-athletes to be successful with a mindset that losing can actually be positive. It allows us to understand that when we lose it allows the student-athlete to evaluate why, take notes, and work harder to make sure they become better. It is not all about wins and losses. It is about having the right attitude that will allow you to succeed, building positive relationships with everybody you can, and making the most of your experience in a positive way."
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