BINGHAMTON, N.Y. - Behind their early season success, the Binghamton University women's basketball team's biggest strength may be their team defense.
And, perhaps the biggest strength of their team defense, is my Athlete of the Week, Alyssa James.
"Defense is definitely my strong suit. Working on it over the years has helped me to become this dominant post player, this dominant defensive player, and this dominant defensive blocker," said Alyssa.
Dominant may be one of the best words to describe Binghamton University's Alyssa James.
James, who transferred to B.U. from Caldwell College after her freshman season, notched her 1,000th career point against Army to start this year and now finds herself in an elite setting.
She's currently in a back-and-forth battle for the national lead in blocks per game.
What does this mean to Alyssa?
"It definitely means a lot to me, not only because I'm bringing something to myself, I'm also bringing something to the team. Making a name for Binghamton University and the women's basketball program. That's what I want to do."
Something else she's brought herself and the university is the award of America East Defensive Player of the Year the past two seasons, and I'd say there's a strong chance for a three-peat.
However, basketball wasn't always her thing.
"At first, I didn't really want to play basketball. But, I got into it because I was tall. I was terrible until, honestly, I really think I was terrible until my sophomore year in college. But, I'm here now. It was definitely helpful to have such a great basketball presence, not only in my family, just in the city."
Alyssa grew up just outside of New York City in Queens.
And that "family basketball presence"?
None other than her uncle, NBA Hall of Famer, Patrick Ewing. But just how familiar was Alyssa with her uncle's work when she was just a kid?
"I don't actually remember him playing. But, you know, the videos, I'm stunned every time I watch those videos. Still to this day."
One thing she shares with her uncle is they both have been student-athletes.
Ewing played his college ball at Georgetown, where he currently coaches.
Alyssa graduated in May with her bachelor's degree in geography and is currently working towards her master's in the same field.
She explained what it's like trying to balance books and basketball.
"Being an athlete definitely helps you decide when you have time to do this,and when you have time to do that. That's what's helped me the past five years."
Even as a grad student, she still couldn't avoid finals week.
Luckily, there was a brightly-lit tree at the end of the tunnel to help get her through her exams.
With Christmas right around the corner, I asked her what her holiday plans were during her short break from school.
"Honestly, just go home. My mom usually has a little brunch. I don't know if she's going to do it this year because she always says 'It's too much to make all this food for all these people'. But, she might have a little something and have some friends over. My brother's bringing over his girlfriend, so we'll see how that goes."
Her parents, Rosemarie and Carlton, as well as her brother, Adam, and even Adam's new girlfriend, will all celebrate the holidays together.
And some holiday traditions you never outgrow.
"My brother usually wakes me up at 5:00 AM to open Christmas presents...still."
Once the exams have been taken, the presents have been opened, and the brunch has been eaten, Alyssa can wrap up and tie a bow on yet another successful year, and look ahead to what 2018 has in store.
Alyssa and the Bearcats return home on New Year's Eve when they host Dartmouth for a 2:00 pm tip-off.
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