The toney neighborhood of Foggy Bottom in Washington, D.C., isn’t known for an abundance of wildlife, particularly not snakes — well, at least outside of politics.
But there’s been an appearance of a deadly mamba at George Washington University early this winter, and now Colonial basketball opponents should tread carefully. Point guard James Bishop is among the Atlantic 10 leaders in both scoring (19.5 points per game) and assists (6.8), and he’s taking on the persona of his longtime hero, Kobe Bryant, more and more.
“My dad was a Lakers fan and I was always watching,” Bishop said. “He’s my favorite player ever. I followed him and read so much about his work ethic, his drive and determination. It really inspired me to be like I am today.”
And what the 6-foot-2 Bishop is like is relentless. Like a certain Laker gone too soon. Listen closely and you hear the “Mamba Mentality” spilling out. Ask Bishop what he has to work on to reach his goal of playing at the next level: “I think I have to improve everything, continue to improve my scoring, my playmaking and also being a menace on both sides of the ball and continue being a leader, just everything in my overall game.”
That’s been this mamba’s M.O. since his monumental career at Mount Saint Joseph where among the array of college stars that Baltimore powerhouse has produced, Bishop won more games (126) than any other Gaels player ever. He scored more than 2,100 points in his career and played on two Baltimore Catholic League championship squads. As a senior in 2019, he scored 23.3 points per game en route to BCL Player of the Year honors and a second straight Baltimore Sun first-team All-Metro selection.
“Coach [Pat] Clatchey has built a culture of winning at Mount Saint Joe,” said Bishop of the amazing number of Gaels who have gone on to play in college in recent years, including freshman George Washington teammate Tyler Brelsford. “[Clatchey] talked a lot about the next level and what it takes to succeed. He runs his program like a college, a lot of the same drills and concepts. It prepares you for college.”
When it came time for Bishop to make his college decision, he chose LSU over VCU, Marquette and St. John’s, and he was billed as the Tigers’ point guard of the future. Only trouble was the talented Baltimore guard hadn’t played any point at Mount Saint Joseph’s — or elsewhere for that matter.
He was a scorer, one that made jaws drop with his innate ability with the ball in his hands and the hoop in front of him.
“He has an unbelievable ability to score and scoring comes so easily for him,” George Washington coach Jamion Christian said. “I think what people don’t understand is how unselfish he is. They think because a guy can score the ball and has a talent for scoring, they misread it because he’s just so unselfish. All he cares about is winning and the happiness of his teammates, sharing the basketball with them.”
He didn’t get much chance to share the ball or show his game at LSU, playing in just 16 games, getting only 8.6 minutes an appearance and averaging only 3.1 points and 0.3 rebounds. Bishop harbors no hard feelings. His emotions are as loose and free-flowing as his end-to-end game. He just points to bad timing.
“We had a great point guard [at LSU] in Javonte Smart so I couldn’t really get any minutes or any rhythm,” he said. “Nothing really went wrong. It was just the timing and the players that were already there.”
And since Bishop had the reputation as more of a pawn when it came to playing point, it made more sense to go where he could get on the floor, earn a spot and start gearing to play with the pros. Bishop even thinks the doubters are giving him an assist.
“It’s fuel to the fire, definitely when I got [to GW] and people say I can’t play the position,” Bishop said. “It just makes me go hard every day.”
Christian and assistant coach Graham Bousley took Bishop under their wing to put a finer point on the GW program.
“The book out there on James was that he couldn’t play point guard and I had watched his high school film, all his film, and I felt like he could,” said Christian, who is upbeat on anything Buff and Blue. “I just felt like he needed people around him to teach him and really spend time with him, so we had a chance to connect. I could tell how passionate he was about playing the position and getting other guys involved. It naturally fit into place. What he wanted to prove is what we needed.”
And it’s what’s driving the Colonials through a deceptive 1-5 start. Four of the losses have been one- or two-possession games. It’s hard to find fault with Bishop as he learns on the job. The sophomore, who got an eligibility to waiver to play immediately, is second in the Atlantic 10 in assists (6.8 per game) and ranks ninth in scoring (19.5). He’s ninth in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.9, and well, he must be doing something right finding teammates. Three other Colonials are averaging double figures, and two more are chipping in better than 7.0 points a game.
As the season wears on, Bishop will keep battling. And learning.
“It’s just me continuing to learn and working to be a leader on the floor,” he said. “I think the biggest transition is just managing the game, knowing when to score and knowing when to pass, reading matchups, knowing when somebody on our team has a mismatch.”
Bishop doesn’t go much beyond that in analyzing his own play. He defers, saying the coaches put him in a great position to succeed and it’s all about teammates’ work and their ability — a point guard mentality to go with that mamba’s bite as a scorer.
Bishop scored 20 or more points in his first four games for GW, and then Delaware held him to 14 in the A-10 opener Dec. 11. He missed a 3-point shot to tie the game with eight seconds left, but the ball was in his hands with the game on the line. He bounced back with 21 in an overtime loss to William & Mary Dec. 14 and again had a shot at the buzzer.
And the ball will be in his hands again and again in crunch time. Just the way he wants it.
“I’m still learning and getting better, but I definitely love having the ball in my hands, getting shots for my guys and myself, controlling the game,” Bishop said.
Somewhere, Kobe Bryant is smiling.
All statistics are entering George Washington’s game against Charlotte Dec. 22.
Photo Credit: William Atkins/GW Athletics