(WIVB) – James Rojas knows a thing or two about adversity.

Rojas graduated from Jamestown High School in 2017 as a star basketball player, but didn’t see much recruitment. He ended up at Hutchinson Community College, a junior college located in Kansas. He got his college basketball career started there, blossoming into a star in his second season, averaging 19 points per game along with 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals, eventually earning honors on the NJCAA All-America team.

After that, he committed to come home and play for UB with then head coach Nate Oats. However, Oats left for Alabama and Rojas ended up following him there.

“I still didn’t get much recruitment after playing well in JUCO so I committed to Buffalo. They were a great team, going to the [NCAA] tournament and all that. Then there was the coaching change from Oats and [assistant Bryan] Hodgson and all of them going to Alabama. Hodgson called me and asked me if I wanted to go play big-time, Power 5 basketball and I was like ‘yeah, for sure.’ They told me about the coaching change and that they were going there and wanted to take me with them,” Rojas said.

“We thought he was going to go to UB and then the coaching staff there went to Alabama. All of the sudden, we weren’t really sure, was he still going to go to UB or would that even be a possibility, could he even play at Alabama? Once they offered him a scholarship for him to go there and be an important part of their success there, it was great,” said Ben Drake, his high school coach at Jamestown.

However, disaster struck almost as soon as he got to Tuscaloosa. That summer, he tore his ACL in his right knee, ending his season before it even began.

“I was down on myself, but I just started looking at positives,” Rojas said. “I could just watch everything from the sidelines and get a feel for how the team works and this and that, just be a leader. You see more things on the sidelines than you do on the court and to get to be kind of an extra coach.”

At the same time, he was rehabbing his knee to get back to playing as soon as he could.

“I did rehab at six in the morning every day, lifts, basketball workouts when I could, just to get back as fast as I could. But I loved the process, just watching your body transform every single day,” Rojas said. “You literally cannot walk one day and then you have muscle the next day.”

He was able to return for the 2020-21 season. That season had its challenges as well. He broke his hand during the season and had to play much of it with his hand taped up and had surgery on it after the season. Despite this, he was able to appear in 30 of the Crimson Tide’s 33 games and made his NCAA tournament in a first round game against Iona as Alabama advanced to the Sweet 16 of that year’s tournament.

More adversity hit him during the summer of 2021, however. In a workout that summer, he pivoted wrong and tore his ACL and meniscus in his left knee, forcing him to complete another round of rehab.

However, he knew what he needed to do this time around to get back to playing.

“I was down on myself again but just for a second and then I realized that I had to get back this season, so I did double rehab, triple rehab, just working every single day for as long as I could so that I could get back,” he said.

It was a success. On January 15, he made his season debut against Mississippi State and appeared in 17 games and earning three starts. He averaged 5.9 points per game in 13.5 minutes per contest as a role player and a leader. He played in his second straight NCAA tournament this past March.

“It was rewarding for sure. Just going through all of that stuff and being able to play at the highest level and the biggest stage in basketball is a moment I’ll never forget, just being able to play in that atmosphere is a great feeling. Obviously, I want to get back there,” he said.

He may just have another shot. This past summer, he transferred to Wichita State for his final season of college basketball with head coach Isaac Brown.

“We heard really good things about him. I knew he went to University of Alabama, he had a good career there for two years and went to back-to-back NCAA tournaments. We lost a lot of guys at the four spot and the five spot and we needed experience and he was a guy who we had to have,” Brown said.

Brown said that Rojas is one of the players that his Shockers team will be leaning on this season for leadership, on account on the wealth of experience he brings into Wichita this season.

“We had to add toughness to our team after losing a lot. Just having an experienced guy like that who has been through those SEC wars. He’s not afraid of the American Athletic Conference and just to get him on our basketball team, I think that really helps the young guys,” Brown said. “He’s a leader in the locker room, he’s one of the guys who you know you can run offense with. He’s experienced.”

One thing that has also helped him and what makes him unique is that he is the rare college athlete who is also a father. His son will turn 3 years old in November.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s hard,” Rojas said. “But I’m thankful that the coaching staff here loves to help. They always have somebody here to watch him when I’m practicing or lifting or working out and whatnot. They make it a lot easier.”

Rojas said it’s rewarding for him to be able to see his son watch him play on a nightly basis, though.

“It’s the best feeling in the world, just knowing that he’s right there. He went to every single home game and a couple away games. Just being able to play in front of him, have him look up to me. It’s the greatest feeling to see him after a big dub. It’s great,” Rojas said.

He still has a following locally that is watching him too. Drake is one of those people still watching him.

“I’ve been blessed to coach some good players but I’m just really proud of James for taking advantage of all the opportunities that have come his way,” Drake said. “Sometimes, kids go away and they go from being a big fish to a little fish and they have a hard time with that, but he has risen to the occasion every step of the way.”

At the end of the day, all Rojas wants to do is to get better every day to help prepare him for what is coming next in both basketball and life.

“Wherever it takes me, honestly,” Rojas said. “I have no clue right now. Wherever I get the call.”

Aidan Joly joined the News 4 staff in 2022. He is a graduate of Canisius College. You can see more of his work here.