James Demery’s Twitter bio isn’t a complicated one. It’s short — just two sentences, nine words:
Make it happen. Never forget where you came from.
That about sums up the mindset of Demery, a 6-foot-6 forward who went to Northside Christian Academy in Charlotte. Four years later, after a productive career at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, he found himself in a pre-draft workout for the Charlotte Hornets.
Demery worked out alongside Villanova’s Mikal Bridges on Saturday afternoon, in the second of two workouts hosted by the Hornets. Bridges, a consensus lottery pick and candidate for the Hornets at No. 11, may have been the more highly touted player.
Demery lacked that name recognition, but he made up for it with his work. He went through every drill with a sense of urgency: cutting hard around each cone, coming off imaginary screens like a defender was there. During one drill, where Demery had to do back-to-back fullcourt layups, you could hear him yell “Aye!” as he pushed himself to sprint just a little harder.
“It was a great one,” he said of the workout. “A lot of conditioning going on, making sure we were in shape — and that we were doing what we were supposed to be doing during the summer.”
It wasn’t a problem for Demery, who had been in the gym every day leading up to this. He wasn’t going to let this opportunity — a chance to impress Hornets coach James Borrego, general manager Mitch Kupchak and other staff members in person — go to waste.
He was happy to be home, too. Demery was born in Williamston and played at Greenville’s Oakwood School as a high school freshman and sophomore. His time with Team Charlotte, the AAU program run by former UNC star and NBA vet Jeff McInnis, brought him in contact with Northside Christian Academy’s coaching staff.
Demery transferred to the private school for his last two years, which both ended in NCISAA 2A state championships. He averaged 18 points and 5 rebounds per game as a senior, was ranked fifth among North Carolina’s class of 2014 and committed to St. Joseph’s. Now, even though it’s a brief stay, he’s back where he started.
“It feels great,” Demery said of returning to Charlotte. “That’s why it’s called the Queen City. My family was here, a lot of people from North Carolina supporting me, so this has been a great experience.”
At St. Joseph’s, Demery increased his PPG average every single year. He jumped to 14.5 points per game as a junior, and averaged a career-high 16.9 per game as a senior. Demery ended up becoming the 54th player in school history to break 1,000 career points. He attributes it to a mental change.
“I’d have to say my attitude, more confidence in my game …” he said. “That was a really big thing for me to do, and, as you can see, the results showed every year.”
That confidence helped especially with his shooting. Early in his college career, Demery said he would hear opponents say “Back off, let him shoot!” during games. In his first three years, Demery made 24 total threes, and no more than 10 in a single season.
So, he dedicated significant summer work to his 3-point shot. As a senior, he made 22 of 79 threes. The percentage, 27.8, wasn’t incredible, but it showed improvement — and a willingness to adapt to the NBA trend of stretch fours and fives.
Demery’s best attribute, he said, is his defensive versatility and intensity. He’s confident he can guard multiple positions at the next level. As for the intensity? He credits that to the battles he had in practice with DeAndre’ Bembry, his teammate of two years who was drafted 21st by the Atlanta Hawks in 2016.
“We never back down,” Demery said of their relationship. “I was always guarding DeAndre’; DeAndre’ was always guarding me. I was that guy who was always pushing him, and he was that guy pushing me, because we knew each other’s potential.”
He should credit himself, too. Demery’s work ethic was on display all of Saturday afternoon. Regardless of what opportunities he gets within pro basketball, in the United States or elsewhere, he looks ready to embrace.
Plus, he’s just happy to be here. That was evident as he left the practice court, shook hands with his workout partner Bridges, chatted with Kupchak and met reporters with a smile on his face.
“It’s a blessing,” Demery said. “Hard work pays off, and there’s more to come.”