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Return of James integral to Bobcats’ magical run

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With each upset, the Brooklyn College Academy boys’ basketball draws more recognition – more fans, more reporters, more adulation.

Like clockwork, the joyous players and coaches, Alicia Braswell and Paul Wallace, are asked to describe the transformation. How, exactly, a team that barely won more league games than it lost, who was seeded a fair 26 in the PSAL Class B playoffs, has taken off.

The answer is always the same, although it is usually phrased in a different context.

It revolves around Jamaal James, the Bobcats’ 6-foot-5 center. James missed eight games, Braswell explained, with a broken right eye socket, robbing her team of their best rebounder and lone intimidating inside presence. His absence put extra pressure on undersized power forward Onyema Utti and guards Keyon Aigle and Tarik Phillip.

“We’re one, we’re a family,” Braswell said. “When we didn’t have him, it was like missing one of your toes. It hurt.”

BCA felt it could’ve won Brooklyn B West – they finished third – if not for his injury. It is why they don’t consider themselves a Cinderella Story.

“We’re just a team basically playing our game,” Utti said.

Since James returned Feb. 5, the Bobcats (15-6) have won seven of its last eight, the only loss his first game back against BCAM. He has pulled down double figures in rebounds in each contest, including a nine-point, 23-rebound performance in the opening-round upset of No. 7 Lab Museum. He also had 11 points and 15 rebounds in a semifinal victory over No. 3 Townsend Harris.

“I don’t know where we would be without him,” Utti said.

“Rebounding, blocks, steals, all-around on the defensive side, he’s a great player,” Aigle said.

James, who averaged seven points and 13 rebounds in eight regular games and seven points and 16 rebounds in the postseason, said it was difficult missing so much time. Because of the injury, which he sustained in the middle of January when he was inadvertently elbowed in the eye in practice, he couldn’t do anything basketball related.

He spent all his time lifting weights and running, he said, “so when I got back I was ready.”

“It really frustrated me a lot,” he said of watching his teammates from the sideline, during which they went 4-4. “We didn’t have any big man. I kept thinking what it would be like if I was on the court.”

The junior from Springfield Gardens, Queens didn’t imagine this. But he doesn’t want to stop here. James wants this feeling to continue in Glens Falls, where BCA will meet Collegiate Friday morning in the state Federation Class B semifinals.

“We’re gonna try to get the championship there, too,” he said.

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