James Strong (@coachjstrong3) begins his eighth season as an assistant coach for Belmont Basketball in 2018-19.
Upon arrival, Strong’s candor and no nonsense approach resonated with Belmont players, and evidence of his work with Bruin backcourt players, in particular, is undeniable.
In short order, Strong has worked with five of the most productive and decorated players in program history: Ian Clark, Kerron Johnson, J.J. Mann, Craig Bradshaw and Austin Luke. In 2013, Clark and Johnson ranked among the top backcourts in America, leading the Bruins to a No. 24 final RPI and program-best No. 11 NCAA Tournament seed.
Both Clark and Johnson earned conference, regional and national awards and are poised for lengthy professional careers. Strong’s daily shooting regimen with Clark pushed the Memphis native to new heights, as he ranked among the NCAA leaders in three-point field goal percentage and three-point field goals per game, en route to placement in the National Three-Point Championships at the 2013 Final Four. Clark carried that momentum into the Portsmouth Invitational senior showcase, NBA Summer League, and ultimately, placement on the Utah Jazz. He enters year six in the NBA with the New Orleans Pelicans, after winning an NBA Championship with the Golden State Warriors. Meanwhile, Johnson’s steely resolve and knack for clutch play propelled Belmont over Murray State in the 2013 OVC Championship game en route to a pro contract in the Australian Professional League. Johnson was named 2015 German Bundesliga All-Star for MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg. Meanwhile Mann, perhaps the most drastic improvement over a four-year period, willed himself to All-America and OVC Player of the Year honors, as he presently plays in Denmark.
More recently, Strong continued the development of Craig Bradshaw, as the 2016 graduate blossomed into one of the nation’s best players. Named All-OVC for three times and an All-America and All-District selection, Bradshaw cemented his Mid-Major All-America status with a 25-point performance against ACC Champion Virginia in the NCAA Tournament.
Fourth on Belmont's NCAA Division I era scoring list with 1,698 points, Bradshaw helped the Bruins to 94 victories, four consecutive postseason appearances, national Top 25 poll votes four straight seasons.
The 6-3 guard scored in double figures in 87 of his final 97 games as a Bruin, including a Belmont NCAA Division I era single-game record 42 points at Ohio (11/29/14). He begins year three playing professionally.
Luke, a two-time First Team All-OVC selection, ranks second in OVC history in assists (681).
In Strong’s first year at Belmont, Clark, Johnson, and Drew Hanlen were all named First Team All-Atlantic Sun; it is believed to be the first time that three guards from the same team in any conference have been named first team all-conference in the same year.
Strong has made a tremendous impact for Belmont, as his contributions in everything from scouting reports and winning attitude to defense and guard development helped Belmont reach its fifth, sixth, and seventh NCAA Tournaments in the last 12 years. Moreover, during Strong’s time on the sidelines, the Bruins have gone 168-64, won six consecutive conference championships, received national Top 25 poll votes seven out of eight campaigns, earned victories over North Carolina, Marquette, Stanford, Georgia, Vanderbilt, and nationally-ranked Murray State, posted the nation’s longest home court win streak and road win streak, and reached the quarterfinal round of the Postseason NIT.
Strong also coordinates individual workouts for Belmont’s redshirt players, with current Bruins Mack Mercer, Michael Benkert, Seth Adelsperger, Nick Hopkins, Mick Muszynski, Grayson Murphy, Caleb Hollander, Tate Pierson and Michael Mayernick all benefitting from Strong's tutelage.
Strong spent the previous five seasons as an assistant coach at Furman; he was named associate head coach prior to the 2010-11 season.
“James’ experience as a player and coach, as well as his success as associate head coach at Furman allowed him to begin contributing immediately to all aspects of our program,” Coach Byrd said. “Our players have a great deal of respect for James. He has enhanced our basketball program on the floor and in recruiting. And, most importantly, he enhances Belmont University and our athletic department with the personal character that he brings to our campus. We are really glad to have him on board.”
The Paladins completed one of their finest seasons in program history, posting a 22-11 record and earning an invitation to the 2011 CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament – the program’s first postseason appearance since 1991.
Furman’s 22 victories marked the second-highest single-season win total in school history, and most in 30 years. Perhaps most notably, the Paladins defeated Southeastern Conference member, South Carolina, 91-75, and won at eventual Southern Conference Tournament champion, Wofford. Furman senior Amu Saaka earned All-SoCon honors.
Strong shouldered great responsibility at Furman, including on-the-floor teaching, player development, scouting and recruiting.
Strong is no stranger to the middle Tennessee area, having spent a decade as a student-athlete and coach at Vanderbilt University. Strong was a four-year letterwinner for the Commodores on the hardwood (1997-2000), leading Vanderbilt to three postseason appearances. As a junior, Strong led the SEC and established a Vanderbilt single-season record in steals (77). He ranks fourth on the Commodores’ career steals list (209) and served as team captain as a senior.
Belmont associate head coach Brian Ayers coached Strong at Vanderbilt during his freshman and sophomore seasons.
The Huntsville, Alabama native then spent six seasons on Kevin Stallings’ coaching staff at Vanderbilt (2001-06), before heading to Furman.
Strong earned a bachelor’s degree in human and organizational development from Vanderbilt in 2000.
He and his wife, Tami, have two children: Kayla and JP.