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Jean-Marie looks forward to returning to basketball

Photo courtesy James Jean-Marie

James Jean-Marie understands why he is where he is right now – in a Waikiki hotel room by himself as part of the quarantine process that all people traveling into Hawai’i have to complete. It is only making him hungrier – literally and figuratively.

Jean-Marie is an incoming transfer to the University of Hawai’i basketball team. The 6-foot-8 forward played last season at the University of San Diego, and will have one season of eligibility with the Rainbow Warriors.

He arrived in Honolulu on Sunday after a long trip from Montreal, Canada, and is currently going through the mandated quarantine.

“I look out from my windows and I can see how beautiful everything is over here, but I can’t do anything about it right now,” Jean-Marie said. “It really makes me appreciate what’s out there and now I can’t wait to get on the campus with everybody else and start working hard.”

The quarantine process in Hawai’i is just the latest of numerous hurdles Jean-Marie has faced recently. After his season-ending game for San Diego in March, he said the team was on campus for two days before receiving notice that the school would be shutting down due to the pandemic.

He immediately booked a flight to Montreal. His family and home were there for personal needs, but Montreal was also one of the early “hotspots” for COVID-19, and the city was already shut down by the time he arrived.

“That was hard, really hard,” Jean-Marie said. “You couldn’t even go to the park by yourself to shoot baskets. I would try and get a quick run around my house, but then it was back to my room and just stay inside. It was like that for two months.”

It also gave him time to enter the NCAA transfer portal and explore his options for his final season of collegiate basketball.

“Everything was fine at San Diego – the school is good, the coaches were cool,” he said. “But it’s just that the coaches who actually recruited me to go there all left, including Coach G (Chris Gerlufsen).”

Jean-Marie was a key player for the Toreros last season. He started 28 out of 32 games, and finished the season with averages of 7.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. He shot 45.3 percent from the field, including 40 percent (14 for 35) from 3-point range.

“I feel like I’m a versatile player,” he said. “I can play outside – I can shoot the 3 and put the ball on the floor. But I can shoot mid-range as well and finish at the basket. I like to run the floor and play defense. I just feel like I can do anything the team needs.”

Jean-Marie said other programs showed interest when his name was in the Transfer Portal, including Cal State Fullerton and Weber State, but he sensed familiarity in Hawai’i’s schemes when he watched videos of the Warriors.

“I see a lot of the same things on offense, and so I feel like I can come in and help right away,” Jean-Marie said. “And I like what Hawai’i is building. I really feel like it’s a (NCAA) tournament team.”

Jean-Marie played his first two seasons of collegiate basketball at two different junior colleges – Indian Hills Community College (Iowa) and Navarro College (Texas).  He departed San Diego as a regular transfer, not a graduate transfer, and thus had to apply for a waiver to play during the upcoming 2020-21 season.

“It’s going through the process, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be playing this season,” he said.

Jean-Marie said he is majoring in sociology and should be able to graduate after a year at UH. It would be an impressive accomplishment, considering that he grew up in Montreal with parents who emigrated there from Haiti. Jean-Marie knows three languages – Haitian creole, French and English.

“It wasn’t easy growing up in Montreal,” he said. “Not just the language. Everybody plays hockey. I only wanted to play basketball. When I had a chance to go to America (for high school) because of basketball, it was a big thing for me and my family.”

He will have to keep that in mind during his down times in quarantine.

“We meet with the team through Zoom and talk to the coaches – they gave us a exercise program to follow in our room,” Jean-Marie said. “And there’s always (video) that they send us so that we can study the plays. There’s things to do, but I really want to start playing basketball again.”

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