James Teaches Her Gang To Shoot, Steal With The Best

December 09, 1990|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Staff writer

A caricature of Lin James hangs on the wall in her office at North Harford High School. The artist's caption proclaims her head of "The James Gang."

Now, it's true that James has taught her girls to shoot and steal with the best of 'em. But this James Gang does its damage on the basketball court.

Last week, James embarked on her 25th season of coaching girls basketball at North Harford. No one has coached girls basketball in Harford County longer.

In her tenure, James has assembled many competitive teams. Three times, she has taken the Hawks to the state semifinals. In 1985, her girls reached the state title game, but they weren't quite strong enough to win the championship.

James might get another shot at the title this year. The Hawks field a strong team this season that includes her talented 16-year-old daughter Carie. They have already set their sights on a trip to the state semifinals.

Even if she never gets back to the final four, James would be the first to say that she has had plenty of success at North Harford.

"Being successful means different things to different people. I want to build character, but I want them to enjoy the game and have fun. I try to make it fun. Sure, I want to win just as well as everybody else. I was always on winning teams, but at North Harford, that's not always been the case."

Under James, the Hawks have won more than they've lost.

Her all-time winning percentage is over .600, the best in Harford County. That also puts her among the top five active coaches in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

None of that really impresses James. "You stay around long enough, you're bound to win some," she says.

Others give James more credit. "She really knows how to use the girls she has," says Phyllis Hemmes, who ranks second in the county in coaching longevity -- 16 years at Bel Air High.

"A couple of years, she had real fast guards and it was a basic fast-break team. When she has the big girls, she goes to a controlled inside game. She knows how to take the talent and make it successful."

James can barely remember a time when basketball wasn't part of her life. During her junior year at Elbert County High, near Athens, Ga., she and her teammates helped their coach finish off a streak of 100 straight regular-season victories. They played in three state championships.

She moved on to Anderson College and later the University of Tennessee, both on basketball assistance, an early form of scholarship almost unheard of for women in the early 1960s.

During James' early years with the Hawks, women's basketball evolved into a whole new game. When James played, and during her early years at North Harford, the women's game had six players on a side, but it was a three-on-three game. Each team had three forwards and three guards -- nobody crossed midcourt. The evolution to today's game was complete by the early 70s but not without a few growing pains.

"We went over to Cecil County to play Rising Sun or Perryville one year, and they had gone to the new rules, but we had not," says James. "My girls just looked at me and said, 'What are we supposed to do?' I never thought to check and see what they were doing."

As the game changed, James knew exactly where to look for pointers. "You had to pay more attention to the boys game. That's where you could pick up new strategies. I went to a lot of clinics. Some of them, I was the only woman there."

These days, basketball is a family affair at the James household in Dublin. Carie travels with an AAU team, the Waves, in Anne Arundel County.

Jay, 13, plays in a recreation league. When they aren't playing or coaching, this James Gang is often off somewhere watching as husband and father Jim James, a Baltimore County firefighter, officiates college games in the Big East or the East Coast conferences.

As rewarding as coaching basketball has been for James, it is not her whole life. Over the years, she has coached every Hawks girls sports except swimming and tennis. "I imagine I'll probably get around to those some day," said James, who coaches the only high school gymnastics team left in the county. She also coaches the junior varsity field hockey team.

"I don't think Lin would call it a sacrifice to go and keep a program alive," says Hemmes. "When a team needs a coach, like gymnastics or field hockey, she's just there. She's true-blue North Harford."

Make that true-green-and-gold North Harford. "Unless I had to, I would never leave here," says James. "From time to time, I say it's time to get out. And then I see another group coming in, and I think, I'd really like to work with them."

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