The exact distance from the Torrey Pines High School gymnasium in North County San Diego to Viejas Arena on the San Diego State campus is 20.1 miles. The former is where junior guard James Rahon could have been found playing basketball four years ago, the latter is where Rahon can be found playing basketball now.
Despite the short commute between Rahon’s alma mater and SDSU, the journey was not always a smooth one. There were some bumps in the road, not to mention a very long detour.
Going into his senior year of high school, Rahon knew he had a tough decision to make. After enjoying an impressive junior season in which he averaged 26.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game, while being named the Palomar League Player of the Year, interest for the then-point guard from San Diego was heating up and scholarship offers were coming in.
Regarded as one of the best shooters in the country, Rahon knew it was time to decide which school he would be “taking his talents to.”
The high-scoring sharpshooter with the quick release and deep range was being coveted by numerous West Coast programs, including Loyola Marymount University, the University of San Diego and the University of Utah.
When he finally narrowed down his list of schools, only two remained: Santa Clara University and San Diego State University. He could head to Northern California with the chance to play right away or he could stay in his hometown and play in front of his family and friends on a regular basis. The choice was his.
“It was extremely close,” Rahon said of his decision between the two schools. “It was between here (SDSU) and there.”
In the end, he would choose to pack his bags and head north to play basketball for Santa Clara.
“I wanted to experience a new place. I’ve been here my whole life. I just wanted a different experience,” Rahon said.
Fast-forward 18 months.
Rahon was coming off a freshman campaign in which he earned West Coast Conference All-Freshman Team accolades after averaging 11.3 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists and shooting a team-best 40.7 percent from beyond the arc for the Broncos. He would finish as the third-leading scorer on the team that year and play in 32 of Santa Clara’s 33 games in the 2008-09 season. Many figured he would be a major part of the program’s future.
Yet, throughout his freshman year, thoughts of transferring ran through Rahon’s head. After discussing the matter with his parents, it was decided it would be best if he left Santa Clara.
“It just wasn’t the right situation for me,” he said. “But I think it was a really good experience for me to go to Santa Clara first. I did grow from it, so I think it has only helped me so far.”
After news broke he was transferring, various programs from throughout the country showed interest. Though many schools were in the running, only a few stuck out in his mind.
“I did talk to a couple schools. Cal, SDSU, Georgetown and Santa Barbara were really my main four.”
It was back to step one. It was time for another decision about where he would go to school and play basketball. This time though, the decision was much easier to make than the first time around.
The 6 foot 5 inch, 210 pound shooting guard would head home to San Diego and play for SDSU. He was officially an Aztec.
“I knew the coaches here and I was really comfortable with them,” Rahon said of his decision to transfer to SDSU. “Coach Fisher and me had a great relationship, so I knew this was the right place for me. They let me in with open arms.”
Rahon would sit out the 2009-10 season because of NCAA transfer rules, yet still practiced with the team the entire season and ran opposing teams’ offenses at practice.
Then, during last season, Rahon finally got his chance to put on the Aztec uniform and play for the first time in front of his hometown fans.
Even though he was primarily a substitute, Rahon played a vital role during SDSU’s magical season, which ended with an overall record of 34-3 and a berth in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament.
During the season, he played all 37 games, while starting six times. He averaged 7.0 points and 1.6 rebounds in 21.6 minutes per game. He shot 42.7 percent from the field and 43.4 percent from beyond the arc.
“We did know coming in that we were going to be a very strong team,” Rahon said of last season’s Sweet 16 team. “We knew we were a little under the radar, but we liked that and we strove from that.”
Coming into this season, Rahon knows things will be different. His role on the team and expectations of him will be different from last season. He will now be called on to lead the team as a starter.
“This year, I’m going to get a lot more opportunities to show my full repertoire, so I’m excited,” Rahon said of being a starter now. “I don’t really feel any other added pressure. I just feel like I’m ready for this opportunity that is given to me.”
Rahon knows expectations are high coming off last season, yet he emphasized this is a different team than last season’s, with its own personality.
“I don’t think we’re really worried about that right now,” Rahon said of replicating last season’s results. “We’re more worried about looking at it one game at a time. We’re not trying to be someone we’re not, so we’re just trying to be ourselves right now and just trying to focus on getting better each and every day.”
It’s been a long road from Torrey Pines High School to Santa Clara to SDSU, but Rahon now feels he is where he’s supposed to be, back home in San Diego.
“I knew I was coming into a great program,” he said. “I love winning, and that’s what happened last year, so hopefully we can continue doing that.”