Shawn James was among the premier rim-protectors in European basketball for nearly a decade. He won the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and was an All-EuroLeague selection during a three-year stint with Maccabi Tel Aviv. But before any of that, he showcased his abilities in the EuroCup.
James came late to basketball. He only picked up the game in high school and was so raw that he was not recruited for colleges. However, James's raw talent was clear to any scout, so he spent one season at a college prep school before enrolling at Northeastern University. In his two seasons with the Huskies, James shattered blocked shot records and was twice named his conference's defensive player of the year. He then transferred to Duquesne University, where he shined in the 2007-08 season. James signed his first professional contract, a two-year deal with Israeli club Bnei Hasharon, in the summer of 2008.
Bnei Hasharon played its lone EuroCup campaign in 2008-09 and James served as its back-up center. After missing the team's opening game through injury, he showed flashes of raw potential with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block – and 5 turnovers – in an 84-71 road loss at Aris Thessaloniki. It did not take James long to find his groove; he dominated with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks as Bnei Hasharon edged Panellinios Athens 78-76 for its first win in Round 4. He was even better in the regular-season finale with 16 points and 11 boards in an 89-86 victory over Aris. Though Bnei Hasharon finished last in its group with a 2-4 record, James left his mark. He averaged 8.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. On a per-minute-basis, he led the EuroCup Regular Season in blocks (4.36 per 40 minutes), ranked second in rebounds (16.8) and was eight in PIR (29.3).
James built on his EuroCup experience to become one of the best big men in the Israeli League. He signed an extension with Bnei Hasharon and in his third season there, led the Israeli League in rebounds (11.1 rpg.), blocks (3.2 bpg.) and PIR (26.0). His play forced Maccabi Tel Aviv to take notice and the EuroLeague powerhouse signed James that summer. He played sparingly as Sofoklis Schortsanitis's backup in his first season, 2011-12. That year of getting his feet wet proved valuable the next season as James cracked the starting lineup and averaged 11.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and a league-best 1.9 blocks. After helping Maccabi reach the playoffs, he was named to the 2012-13 All-EuroLeague Second Team. Injuries limited James to just 10 games in 2013-14 and he was unable to take the floor in the playoffs or the Final Four as Maccabi won the EuroLeague in Milan.
Milan would be James's next home; he signed with AX Armani Exchange Milan for the 2014-15 season, but was unable to return to his previous form and posted just 3.4 points, 3.2 rebounds in 18 games.
Back in the EuroCup
James played in the EuroCup for the second time in 2015-16 when he signed with Dominion Bilbao Basket. James became the rim-protector Bilbao sought and was worth 8.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.1 blocks in seven games. His impressive play led to a call from Olympiacos Piraeus, which signed James. After a five-game spell with the Reds, James finished the season with Turkish side Eskisheir.
His final EuroCup campaign was in 2016-17 with Buducnost VOLI Podgorica. He was effective with 9.2 points and 4.0 rebounds over 17 minutes per game in five EuroCup appearances, but Buducnost did not advance past the regular season. James played briefly for Cariduros de Fajardo in Puerto Rico and Boulazac in France before announcing his retirement in October 2018.
Although he only started more than five games once in his five EuroLeague seasons, James's career average of 1.3 blocks per game is eighth-best in that competition's history and his 3.18 blocks per 40 minutes are the fifth-best on record.