James Bishop helps George Washington basketball thrive


James Bishop IV sat with a smile on his face in a briefing room just above ground level at George Washington’s Smith Center on Thursday afternoon, discussing GW’s 92-91 victory in overtime last night over St. Joseph’s.

Bishop hadn’t shot the ball particularly well against the Hawks – 5 of 19 from the field – but he didn’t care.

“We won,” he said. “I’m past the point of letting a miss or even a night of misses bother me. All I want to do is make plays that affect winning. I think I’ll do that this year and it’s fun. Have fun.”

It’s not like Bishop has stopped shooting – or scoring. He scored 22 points on Wednesday and is averaging the league’s top 22 per game ahead of Saturday’s visit to Fordham. But the really important number for him is 5.1 — that’s his assists per game, up from 1.9 a year ago.

Thanks in large part to play from Bishop and fellow backfielder Brendan Adams, GW is 5-2 in the Atlantic 10 and 11-9 overall.

“He’s actually become a virtuoso at decision-making,” GW coach Chris Caputo said of Bishop. “A few games ago in Saint Louis he made some mistakes, which really surprised me. But the last three games he was perfect. I watched the film; I’m not exaggerating. He will miss shots but his decision making is perfect.”

That wasn’t always the case for Bishop, a graduate of Mount St. Joseph High School in Baltimore, who spent a year at LSU before joining GW three seasons ago.

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“We recruited him and we really liked him,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said earlier this week. “He was clearly gifted and a good kid too. The only problem really was his decision making. His first five options with the ball were shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot and shoot.”

Bishop laughed when the comment was repeated to him. “He’s right about that,” he said. “I always thought shoot first.”

He had 2,000+ points in high school but only played eight minutes a game as a freshman on an LSU team that finished 21-10 and shared second place in the SEC. When he decided to switch, GW made sense.

Jamion Christian, GW’s coach at the time, “told me he needed me to play immediately, plus it was close to home,” Bishop said. “My parents have been able to see every home game I’ve played since I’ve been here.”

Although Christian was true to his word and gave Bishop the ball right at the start of what turned out to be an abbreviated season, Bishop never felt entirely comfortable that season, having never played point guard in high school or at LSU. Things got better last season when Adams moved from Connecticut and gave Bishop a chance to play the ball off for some time.

Despite this, GW went 12-18, resulting in Christian’s dismissal. Caputo was a longtime assistant under Jim Larranaga at George Mason and Miami before being hired to replace Christian at 41.

“People always say, ‘Is James a point guard or a shooting guard?’ he said. “When I watched his play on tape, what I saw was a Points guard. He could certainly pass, but he was more comfortable shooting. It all came down to decision making.”

Caputo spent much of the spring watching individual tapes with Bishop. The emphasis wasn’t so much on shooting or passing as on making good decisions with or without the ball. “He pointed out that you have the ball about 5 percent of the game,” Bishop said. “What you do the other 95 percent of the time is at least as important.”

He now talks almost obsessively about decision making and how to influence winning. He knows that kicking the ball isn’t his only option. The presence of Adams, who is averaging 17.5 points per game and had a career-high 32 on Wednesday, made a big difference. “BA makes everything easier for me,” Bishop said.

GW was selected to place 12th in the league’s preseason poll. After winning three games in a row, including a win over preseason favorites Dayton, the non-colonials – the school is giving up its previous nickname until next year and looking for a new one – sit in third place behind VCU and Saint Louis. This comes after a disastrous 3-0 trip to Hawaii that began with a 66-64 loss to Washington State in a late three-pointer right after the Cougars appeared to turn the ball around.

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Then grad student EJ Clark left for the season before losses to Pepperdine and Seattle — a game that started at 8:30 a.m. on Christmas morning.

“Merry Christmas,” Caputo said, laughing.

There was no panic, no come unto Jesus meetings. “That’s the best thing about Coach Caputo,” Bishop said. “It never gets too high or too low. When we came back he just sat down with us and said, ‘Let’s learn from this. We’re still a good team.”

As remarkable as the Dayton win was, the win at George Mason earlier in the series was probably more impressive, especially since the Patriots hadn’t lost a home game all season. Adams scored 22 points that night and Bishop had 19 – and eight assists.

“They’re the best backcourt in the league,” said Mason coach Kim English. “They can both score a lot, but neither of them has to score to be effective. You can’t really double either of them because the other one will kill you.”

Bishop has a fifth year of eligibility next season due to Covid. Adams is a fifth-year player, so that’s it for him. “I know I have a decision to make, but I don’t even want to think about it until the season is over,” Bishop said. “Right now we’re playing well and we’re having fun. I just want to enjoy this ride now. The last two seasons haven’t been much fun.”

If Bishop stays, he will graduate in sociology in the fall. “I love the game,” he said. “I’d like to stay in the game once I’m done playing, no matter when that comes. For now though, I can honestly say I’m not thinking beyond Fordham. We lost up there last year.”

Bishop shot 3 of 12 in that game and had two assists and three turnovers. He expects his numbers to be better on Saturday. But if he doesn’t, he doesn’t care as long as GW wins.

“Good decisions and plays that affect winning,” he said with another smile. “As long as I can and I do Impact on winning, I’m good to go.


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