ANAHEIM -- The Marquette player standing between Stanford and a trip to the Sweet 16 today attended the same prestigious basketball camps as Cardinal point guard Mitch Johnson.
He has played the latter half of this season hurt but has continued to provide the confidence and energy that one teammate said "makes everything go."
If Stanford's season ends in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Marquette point guard Dominic James almost certainly will be the catalyst.
If James is on his game, the sixth-seeded Golden Eagles might be able to compensate for the fact they don't have any weapons that compare to 7-foot sophomores Brook and Robin Lopez. If the No. 3 Cardinal corrals James, Marquette will be hard-pressed to keep its season alive.
"He can score in so many ways," said Johnson, who remembers seeing James at camps as far back as grade school. "He can really attack it, just put a lot of pressure on the whole defense. It will definitely test our defense as a team and individually. You've just got to be ready for 40 minutes."
James, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior, has been nearly perfect down the stretch. He has one turnover and 12 assists in his past three games. In two games this season against the South Regional's No. 4 seed, Pittsburgh, he had 15 assists and zero turnovers. In an opening-round victory over Kentucky on Thursday, he had 15 points and three assists without a turnover.
James (along with backcourt mates Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews) also can apply the type of pressure defense that could give Stanford problems. James had six steals last month at Villanova and four this month against Seton Hall.
"He brings energy," McNeal said. "When he's out there and he's playing at a higher rate, he's getting in the lane and making everybody on this team better -- whether he's getting himself shots or getting all the four guys on the court open shots. He's priding himself on defense, too."
James has played in 99 consecutive games for the Golden Eagles. But that streak was put in jeopardy two months ago when a flagrant foul by Seton Hall's Jamar Nutter left James with a sprained right wrist.
The pain lingered, but James kept playing, leading Marquette to a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and earning second-team All-Big East honors. He averages 13 points and 4.2 assists per game.
"He's shown great mental toughness throughout the year," Marquette coach Tom Crean said. "The injury he sustained in the Seton Hall game back in January was needless. He played with that for well over a month. I was very conscious of his minutes and very conscious of the contact at times. He didn't like that. He wanted to be in the action."
James stayed so involved that he suffered a sprained right ankle last month while scrambling for a loose ball. But, again, he kept playing.
"You have to," James said Friday. "I feel like if I can be out there on the floor and contribute in any way, then I want to be out there -- hurt or not. There is a difference between being hurt and injured."
Today, James will have more important matters on his mind than aches and pains. As he walked through the halls Friday at the Honda Center, he said "a couple of people" brought up last year's NCAA Tournament game between Stanford and Louisville. James had not seen the game, which Louisville easily won by applying overwhelming pressure on Stanford's guards. But, he added, "That might be a film I want to watch."
Stanford is a much-improved team from last season. But pressure defense still might be the Golden Eagles' best chance because they don't matchup with the Lopez twins -- and the Cardinal knows that.
"It's going to be a huge key to the game, us taking care of the ball," Johnson said. "I'm sure they're going to try to turn us over, really pressure us, get in transition. It's going to be a contrast of styles and tempos.
"They're a great team, and it should be a very fun game. I'm excited."