After toiling overseas, 27-year-old Suns rookie Mike James is talk of town

Phoenix Suns point guard Mike James has paid his dues and is now taking advantage of Eric Bledsoe’s absence. The 27-year-old rookie is one of the team’s top player in this young NBA season. (Photo by Jamie Nish/ Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — The first time Devin Booker played with Mike James on the Suns’ summer league team, he had questions.

“I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I had never heard of him. He came from overseas. I was like, ‘Why isn’t he on an NBA team?’ ” Booker said.

He is now. The 27-year-old rookie started his first game in the NBA on Monday, leading the Suns to their first victory of the season.

“It was cool, I’m an even-keeled guy. I don’t know what reaction you expect from me,” James said laughing.

James started in place of Eric Bledsoe after the point guard was sent home for tweeting, “I Dont wanna be here” on Sunday.

James played nearly 27 minutes and shot 80 percent from the field. He finished the night with 18 points and banked in a left-handed lay-up to give the Suns a two-point lead with 14.8 seconds left in the game. The Suns defeated the Sacramento Kings 117-115 after Booker made a pair of free throws with 9.8 seconds left in the game.  

“For his first year in the NBA, his first start, he just played with composer and at his own speed and pace,” Booker said. “He just looked comfortable out there.”

James is no stranger to Arizona. He played two years at Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher.   

During his first year with the Gila Monsters, James averaged 20 points and was named to all- conference and all-region teams. James was ranked the 40th-best junior college player by and ended the season shooting 42 percent from the field.

In his second season with the Gila Monsters, James averaged 26 points and was the fourth leading scorer in the NJCAA Division I.

“He’s a dynamic type player,” said his former Eastern Arizona coach, Maurice Leitzke. “He just has a tremendous amount of talent. It was him that just kept growing to become a better player. He just stayed with it. I’m very proud of him for doing that.”   

James would transfer to Lamar University, where he averaged 12.5 points and led the team in scoring his first year. During this season, James notched a 52-point game against Louisiana College which was a school record for most points scored in a single game.

In his second year, he averaged 17.1 points and appeared in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals lost in the first round against Vermont by 12 points. James received honors for his play and was named All-Southland First Team, Southland Tournament MVP and Southland Conference Player of the Week three times in four weeks.

After completing his college career with the Gila Monsters and Cardinals, James went overseas to play for Zagreb in Croatia. After only a few months in Croatia, James packed his bags and headed on a trek that landed him in Israel, Italy and Greece.

In 2015, James signed with the Suns and played in the 2015 NBA Summer League. His stint with the Suns didn’t last long and again he found himself playing in Spain.

A year later, he found himself playing in Greece for the Panathinaikos Athens. They would have a successful season, winning the Greek Cup and the Greek Basket League championship. He was named the Greek Basket League’s Most Spectacular Player for the 2016-17 season.

After playing his best season, James returned to the Valley and signed a two-way affiliate deal with the Suns. He played in the 2017 NBA Summer League and averaged 20.5 points. He was the leading scorer and averaged 5 assists per game before losing to the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round.

And these days, Booker knows exactly who he is.