Mike James and Kemba Walker will share the backcourt for Monaco this season, but will the combination work?
Southland to Southern France
James, a 6´1 PG from Portland, Oregon started in Junior College at Eastern Arizona, before transferring to Lamar University; averaging 17.1 PTs, 3.2 REBs & 2.0 ASTs senior year, making 1st Team in the Southland Conference.
Undrafted, his first stint in Europe was with KK Zagreb before switching teams mid season in 2013 to join a 2nd division team in Israel, Hapoel Galil Elion, where he´d finish 2nd in scoring with 22pts, and first in steals, 3/game.
In Yr3, he made the "jump", signing with Kolossos Rhodes in Greece, and taking full advantage of his opportunity. There, he dominated with six 20-point games (out of 8 total), including 21 vs Panathinaikos and 28 vs Olympiakos, before getting bought out by Baskonia in the Euroleague that December.
In his first 15 EL games with the Spaniards, he averaged 11.3 PTs, 2.5 REBs and 2.1 ASTs; an impressive debut.
James would stay with Baskonia in 2015-16 leading them to the Euroleague Final Four, sharing a back-court with Darius Adams and Fabian Caseur, becoming a house-hold name in Europe, before signing with powerhouse Panathinaikos in the summer of 2016, winning the Greek Cup and league championship before pursuing the NBA for the first time.
After a short stint with the Phoenix Suns, James signed with Milano for the 2018-19 season, was 2nd in scoring in EL (19.8) and 3rd in Assists (6.4) before moving to CSKA Moscow, 2nd in scoring and 3rd in assists in 19-20.
Since the start of the 21-22 season he has been the best player on Monaco, leading the club to it´s first ever Euroleague Final Four this last season, while winning the French Cup and the Pro A Championship.
Rice to The Riviera
For Walker, his basketball journey is smoother, but not without turbulence.
He was a star at Rice high school in Harlem, earning a scholarship to the University of Connecticut, becoming an elite college point guard, (23.9 PTs, 5.3 REBs & 4.5 ASTs), winning the Big East tournament with arguably the best step-back of all time, and securing a national championship.
Going 9th in the 2011 NBA draft to the Charlotte Bobcats, Walker would spend 8 seasons with the team, rack up 4 All-Star appearances, and an All-NBA selection in 2019.
To this day, Walker is the all-time leading scorer for the Bobcats/Hornets with 12k points, most minutes played 20k, and 4,164 FGM.
Unfortunately, Charlotte would only make the playoffs twice in Kemba´s time there, 2014 and 2016, and the Hornets would eventually move their star in a sign-and-trade with the Boston Celtics in exchange for Guard Terry Rozier and a draft pick.
After 2 good seasons with the Boston Celtics and 37 games with the New York Knicks in 21-22, Walker would play 9 games for Dallas (8 PTs, 2.1 ASTs) before completing his move to the Euroleague and Monaco in July.
By keeping the core team that made the Euroleague Final Four last season and adding Walker to the mix, the ambitions in Monaco are clear: make it back to elite status in Europe and compete for the Euroleague crown.
The backcourt of James and Walker complemented by returnees Jordan Loyd and Elie Okobo make it one of the best in basketball.
Three-guard lineups are an option since they are all threats from the 3pt line with the ability to run pick and rolls.
The guard personnel also eliminates a problem Monaco faced last year when James went to the bench and the offense became stagnant.
Now, stacking the minutes with either James or Kemba on the floor at all times is a luxury that no other team in the Euroleague will have.
If Walker needs time to adapt, the transition will be covered by the veterans James and Loyd, who are very familiar with the Euroleague, and Europe.
With Mike and Kemba in the backcourt, there could be an "adjustment" period, but only good things are expected for two players with contrasting paths that have converged.