Former Duke standout Nate James has been a member of the Blue Devils’ staff since the 2007-08 season, serving as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for one year and spending three seasons as an assistant coach prior to being named a special assistant on April 8, 2011. James returned to the role of assistant coach for the 2013-14 season after the departure of former associate head coach Chris Collins.
James, a Washington, D.C., native, is joined on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff by fellow former Duke team captains Jeff Capel (associate head coach) and Jon Scheyer (assistant coach).
As an assistant coach from 2008-2011 and again in 2013-14, James has helped the Blue Devils to a 121-26 record with three ACC Tournament titles and the 2010 NCAA Championship. Duke has earned two No. 1 seeds, a No. 2 seed and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament during James’ four seasons as an assistant coach.
Last season, James saw the Blue Devils post a 26-9 record overall with a 13-5 mark in ACC play and a trip to the ACC Championship game. He was instrumental in the growth of forward Amile Jefferson, who averaged 6.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore. Jefferson ranked among the ACC leader in rebounds and offensive rebounds, while shooting a team-high 64.4 percent from the field. James has also been a vital in the development of fourth-year junior Marshall Plumlee. Plumlee showcased the ability to impact games with his energy and athleticism in limited action a year ago and is poised to be a significant factor for the Blue Devils this season.
In 2010-11, James helped guide Duke to its third straight ACC title and the program’s 12th 30-win season. He assisted in the development of both perimeter and post players, particularly sophomores Andre Dawkins, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee. The trio more than doubled its production from 2009-10, combining to average 21.9 points and 14.0 rebounds per game while shooting 52.8 percent (307-of-581) from the field.
As a coach who had won a national championship as a player in 2001, James’ insight helped the Duke squad as it made its run to the national championship in 2010 along with ACC Tournament, ACC Regular Season and NIT Season Tip-Off titles. In the 2009-10 season, James helped guide one of the nation’s top defenses as the Blue Devils held opponents to 61.0 points per game. Duke ranked 14th out of 334 teams in rebounding margin, mainly due to the improvement of the post players under James and Wojciechowski. One of those post players, senior Brian Zoubek, set the school record for offensive rebounds in a single season with 143. The other starter on the inside, senior Lance Thomas, was named to the ACC All-Defensive team by the coaches and the media.
In his first season as a Duke assistant coach, James worked with the inside players. He helped coach Kyle Singler to 2009 second team All-ACC honors as he became only the sixth sophomore in Duke history to reach 1,000 career points. Singler averaged 16.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game on his way to earning honorable mention All-America honors by the Associated Press.
James played in 135 games from 1997-2001 with 63 starts. He scored 1,116 points, had 500 rebounds and shot 47.3 percent from the floor. While known mostly for defense and rebounding, he also hit 111 career three-pointers. Duke won or shared the ACC regular-season championship in all five years that he was on the team, a feat achieved by no other player in league history.
James brought a warrior mentality to the court that set an example for his teammates and contributed to many victories. Sometimes that meant scoring, as in the 26 points he had against Texas to help Duke win the 2001 Preseason NIT or the career-high 27 that he scored at Clemson later that year on 10-of-14 shooting. James’ warrior spirit usually showed in the way he went after loose balls and rebounds, the way he defended, the way he attacked weight training workouts – all activities that led one publication to name him the ACC’s most underrated player in 2001. ACC coaches, meanwhile, named him to the league’s all-defensive team, while the media voted him third team All-ACC as a senior.
Three of James’ most noteworthy moments were against Maryland in 2001. In the final seconds at College Park, not far from his home, he hit a pair of free throws in the face of an antagonistic crowd to send the game into overtime. In the ACC semifinals, his penchant for finding offensive rebounds led to the winning tip-in just moments before the final buzzer. And in the second half of the NCAA semis in 2001, James stepped up to lock down Juan Dixon, who had torched the Blue Devils for 16 first half points. Dixon scored just three points in the second half as Duke rallied from a large deficit for the win.
One of his most significant contributions to the 2001 NCAA crown was the way he handled his move out of the starting lineup late in the year. James had started 29 straight games heading into the regular season finale against North Carolina. But Mike Krzyzewski wanted to rework his lineup after an injury to Carlos Boozer, so he decided he needed James to come off the bench. James accepted the move and played over 24 minutes per game in Duke’s nine postseason victories. James’ unselfishness prompted head coach Mike Krzyzewski to state that James may have been the biggest winner of all: “When he walked off the court in Minneapolis, he was not only a champion in basketball – Nate James was a champion in life.”
A 2001 Duke graduate, James scored over 1,000 career points as a member of the program from 1996-2001. He helped the Blue Devils to a 71-9 ACC regular season record and is the only player in ACC history with five straight regular season conference titles (he redshirted in 1998 after playing in six games).
James, a two-time team captain, played on a pair of Final Four teams, including Duke’s 2001 NCAA Championship squad. As a senior, James averaged 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game while helping the Blue Devils to a 35-4 record. He earned All-ACC and ACC All-Defensive team honors in his 2001 senior season.
With 117 career victories James is among the winningest players in school history, ranking tied for 10th in ACC history along with Danny Ferry and Andre Dawkins. Duke posted a winning percentage of .867 (117-18) with James on the court, placing him seventh on the Duke career list. Along with his five regular season ACC championships, he was also a member of three ACC Tournament Championship squads at Duke.
James made his mark on the Duke records book as a player. He is one of 63 players in school history to score over 1,000 career points and now ranks 52nd on the all-time list with 1,116 points in his career. In 135 career games he averaged 8.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per game while shooting .473 (387-of-818) from the field. He is one of 47 players in Duke history with 500 career rebounds and ranks 23rd all-time at Duke with 147 career steals.
Following his career at Duke, James played professionally in the United States and overseas from 2002-2007. After being named the Carolinas Basketball League Most Valuable Player in 2003, James spent various parts of the next five seasons playing in Bosnia, Brazil, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Philippines, Poland and Russia. He was also with the Philadelphia 76ers during their training camp in 2004.
In the off-season, James has directed a summer basketball camp with former Blue Devil Chris Carrawell in Durham. The camp teaches the importance of fundamentals in the game of basketball and life.
James earned his degree in sociology with a minor in African-American studies in 2001. He is married to Bobbi Baker-James and currently resides in Durham. The couple has one son, Nathaniel Drake James III.