For as long as he can remember, Lake City High senior forward James Carlson has always been tall for his age.
He was listed at 6-foot-8 during the most recent Timberwolves’ basketball season.
But he might be closer to 6-9 now, looking forward to playing with the Region team in today’s state high school all-star basketball games at North Idaho College.
“He’s always been tall, and he keeps growing every year,” said Jim Winger, his head coach at Lake City the past three seasons. “Matter of fact, you walk by him in the hallways at school every week, it’s like “did you get a little taller again?”
Carlson said he was 6-3 or 6-4 entering his freshman year, and grew roughly 3 inches as a sophomore.
The slender Carlson only weighs 185 pounds.
“I’m trying to put on some weight, and then I just grow,” he said.
He could be 6-10 before it’s all said and done.
And the growth in his game has kept pace with his physical growth.
As a senior, he averaged nearly 19 points and grabbed 8 rebounds per game, and Lake City came within one game of qualifying for the state 5A tournament.
“Each year he’s progressed a ton,” Winger said. “His progress, especially from last year to this year, I just thought was remarkable. He just had an awesome year.”
Carlson’s parents are Chris and Carey Carlson, who coach the North Idaho College women’s basketball team. They also coached James’ sister, Nina, in their North Idaho Elite AAU program. And Chris coached James’ AAU teams up until junior high.
“I’m obviously pretty tall, but my dad always stressed to be a well-rounded basketball player,” James said. “Having an outside shot, being able to handle the ball, too.”
“With his build, he’s definitely not one of the ‘5’ position-type of block players,” Chris Carlson said. “He’s definitely built like a stretch ‘4’, when you can get the ball to the rim off the dribble, and you can shoot it out there, that combination makes you pretty dangerous.
“We worked on the post moves, too, because we had no idea he might not weigh 225 points right now. We thought, well maybe James will fill out, but he ended up staying pretty thin, and very quick. So he’s got some post-up stuff, but as he got into high school, he was definitely going to be a stretch ‘4’ and an inside-outside guy.”
“I’ve had some pretty good coaches that have let me have a pretty good balance (inside and outside),” James Carlson said. “Obviously if I have a mismatch inside I’m going to take it. But I also like playing on the perimeter. All the coaches I’ve had have done a good job of letting me balance the two.”
When he was entering high school, James went to Seattle to play on a travel-ball team, where the coach was Fred Brown Jr. — son of former Sonics great “Downtown” Freddie Brown.
“He’s great inside, obviously, but he can play really well out on the perimeter,” Winger said. “He’s 10 out of 10 on coachable. He’s as nice a young man as you’ll ever meet in your life. He’s smart. The toolbox is completely full.”
“If we had a little more depth and a little more size this year, we probably would have played him a little more out on the perimeter,” Winger added. “We did run a lot of sets for him out there. But for our team, this year, we had to use him a lot inside. But I think in college he could be a great perimeter player. His game outside has improved immensely in the last couple of years. He’ll get stronger, quicker, faster ... I just think the sky’s the limit for his potential.”
Carlson attracted recruiting interest from some smaller area four-year schools, such as NAIA Lewis-Clark State and Carroll, and NCAA Division II Northwest Nazarene. But he plans to play at North Idaho College, get bigger physically, then look to transfer to a four-year school.
“He definitely wants to put on 15 pounds of muscle, because he’s definitely got the skills to be able to play at a higher level,” Chris Carlson said. “He feels he can develop physically at NIC, and have another shot.”
James’ continual growth has made it a challenge to keep him in the same clothes for long.
“It almost seemed like every other week, Carey would be coming by saying, ‘We’ve got to get some new pants, or some new shirts,’” Chris said. “And I’d be like, ‘Didn’t we just get him those?’
“To me it seemed like weeks, but it was actually months apart.
“The big find was the D&B farm place (now site of a North 40 Outfitters). When we found the 31x37 skinny jeans, man, we found something there. That was a hit.”
As for James putting on the pounds, well, it’s not been for lack of trying.
“He goes through the pot pies and the brats, and steak disappears real fast,” Chris Carlson said. “And burgers. We get some protein powder ... everything. He’s got a high metabolism; he just burns it.”