Hard work thrusts XU star onto NBA doorstep

Wednesday, October 28, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

James Posey, Lenny Brown and Reggie Butler are alone in Schmidt Fieldhouse. Several times a week after study table and homework, the Xavier basketball players go to the gym for a little extra practice. It is close to 11 p.m. They are exhausted after shooting and playing one-on-one.

Then Posey says: "Let's shoot another round, 100 more shots." "He doesn't want anybody to get ahead of him as far as working," Butler said.

"It's a big year, and I have to step my game up all around," Posey said. "Everything is like a game situation to me right now, so when the time comes there's no hesitation."

A year ago, the spotlight on Xavier basketball was shining directly upon guards Gary Lumpkin and Brown. This fall, the glare is brightest on Posey, a 6-foot-8 senior forward.

  • Honorable mention All-America; No. 5 Best Unknown Player; first-team all-A-10 -- Street & Smith's
  • No. 2 power forward in nation; A-10 Player of the Year -- The Sporting News
  • No. 6 power forward in nation; first-team all-A-10 -- Dick Vitale
  • Third-team All-America; A-10 Player of the Year -- Athlon Sports
  • Top 20 preseason candidate for Naismith Player of the Year award
  • Top 50 preseason candidate for John R. Wooden Player of the Year award
  • The two-time Atlantic 10 Conference Sixth Man Award winner was a member of the gold-medal U.S. Goodwill Games team this summer and has been mentioned on a few preseason All-America teams.

    "I'm aware of some of it, but I'm just going to go out and play hard and do whatever it takes to give us a chance to win the basketball game," Posey said.

    With Darnell Williams' knee injury in June, questions as to whether Posey will start or come off the bench for a third season are moot.

    He will start. And XU needs him to star.

    NBA scouts have been watching since he was a sophomore.

    The surest bet of this season is that Posey will not be outworked. He has been relentless in trying to improve his three-point shooting and ballhandling.

    "Last year, he would never take more than one or two dribbles," assistant coach Jeff Battle said. "He would just pick the ball up and wait for (point guard) Gary (Lumpkin) to come get it. Now he's just getting it and going with it."

    During any spare time, Posey is either in the gym practicing, lifting weights, or in an assistant coach's office watching video. Posey couldn't stand not playing for a few days when Xavier let out for its fall break, so he went home to Detroit with Butler to play pick-up games with some of the top talent there, including several pro players.

    "He works his tail off every day," Lumpkin said.

    "His expectations for himself are higher than any expectations anybody could put on him," Butler said. "Pose wants to be better than anybody thinks he can be."

    Posey is carrying himself differently on and off the court. He is naturally low-key, soft-spoken, easy-going. But he has evolved, like many older college students, into a more self-assured person.

    He attends more events at the school, such as women's soccer and volleyball games. Coach Skip Prosser calls Posey "one of the most popular kids on campus."

    "He's the Xavier mascot," Butler said, smiling. "He might as well be the Blue Blob. He swears he's shy, but he's not. He's real outgoing. People love him. He's funny. He can take a joke, and he can give jokes.

    "He feels real good about himself, and you can tell. Everything he does is with a little more confidence, even playing video games, or just walking around."

    Posey said: "I'm a little more talkative. Over the years, I've just tried to do more and more. When you get here, it's like you're a little kid once again and then you've got to grow up. If you don't grow up, you're going to be left behind."

    Academically ineligible to compete as a freshman, Posey needs only to complete a practicum and this semester's courses to complete the requirements for his criminal justice degree by December. Sister Rose Ann Fleming, the team's academic adviser, said Posey will begin classes toward a master's degree in January.

    "A lot of people doubted me academically," Posey said. "People thought I'd be home in a couple months. I said no, I'm not going to live up to what they expect me to do."

    "I know James appreciated the fact that his father came down and said he would do anything to keep James here," Fleming said. "The family had to take care of all his expenses (his freshman year). He's a real success story, but I really don't feel it's anything other than what James has done for himself, modeled on the commitment he's seen from his father."

    Despite coming off the bench for two seasons, Posey has earned a reputation as a versatile, hard-nosed, hustling player.

    He has led Xavier in rebounding two straight seasons. Last year, he tripled his number of three-pointers from the previous year and was the No. 2 scorer even though he was fifth in average minutes.

    "I always thought that he was a kid who never really knew how good he could be, but now he's starting to realize (he's) special," Battle said. "He's seeing improvements in his game because of his work ethic, so now he's like a sponge; he can't get enough of it because he wants to get better and better."

    This is not the same Posey that Prosser remembers watching go through preseason conditioning as a freshman. That year, Prosser remembers telling one of his assistants: "There's no way this kid will last with me."

    "Knowing I wasn't going to be able to play, I was going through the motions," Posey said. "I'll admit it. My actions spoke louder than my words."

    "I was dead wrong," Prosser said. "His work ethic is much greater than I ever thought it would be."

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