Saturday, December 7, 2002

Catching up with James Posey

Ex-Musketeer Posey transforms into leader with Nuggets

By David Goldstein
Enquirer contributor

TORONTO - Over the past four seasons, the Denver Nuggets have seen many changes - the return and subsequent departure of Dan Issel, the beginning and end of the Mike Evans coaching era, the heralded arrival of general manager Kiki Vandeweghe and the handing of the team's future to two foreign youngsters.

But one thing they have counted on through all the turmoil has been hard work, great defense and scoring from former Xavier Musketeer James Posey.

Posey, a 6-foot-8 swingman, was the 18th selection in the 1999 NBA draft and averaged 8.2 points and 3.9 rebounds in 77 starts during his rookie season. He has gotten better and is putting up career highs this season with 14.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists a game.

But in Posey's four seasons, Denver has yet to post a winning record, losing 144 times in his first three seasons and sitting at 5-13 going into Friday's game at Sacramento. With the acquisitions of 20-year-old Brazilian rookie Nene Hilario and 19-year-old Nikoloz Tskitishvili from the Republic of Georgia, and with an average roster age younger than 25, a major turnaround still looks to be a few years off.

But with few options around him, Posey has been called on to carry the Nuggets' scoring load.

"I'm in a great situation," he said. "I'm living this dream, playing at the highest level of basketball. I'm just enjoying every second of it."

The Nuggets' youth does have its advantages for Posey.

Only 25, he is considered a veteran on the Nuggets, and he has become a team leader. Over the course of a big comeback against the Toronto Raptors on Nov.15, Posey barked instructions, shouted encouragement and generally took control of the team - his team. Denver lost a heartbreaker, but Posey didn't let lightning strike again a week later, hitting a buzzer-beating, 18-foot jumper to defeat the Los Angeles Clippers 72-70.

Posey will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, and there surely will be interest in a swingman who can slash to the basket and lock down opponents who attempt to do the same. Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik knows exactly what he has in Posey, and what he could be losing come the end of the season. But his focus, and that of his star player's, is rooted firmly in the present.

"James has been absolutely wonderful," Bzdelik said. "In terms of his work ethic, his leadership and his energy on a daily basis, he's been second to none."

Posey has the attention of his teammates, the confidence of his coach, and suitors waiting for him to become a free agent. Posey also has Xavier alumni to meet in other NBA cities, although pleasantries among them are always short-lived.

"When we see each other before a game, there's always much love given," Posey said. "But the bottom line is you know they're playing hard and playing to win, and you've got to do the same. Before tipoff, everything is fine and dandy, fun and jokes, but when the ball goes up, it's strictly business."

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