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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Worth the squeeze: NIC transfer Julius ‘Juice’ Mims crucial piece of Idaho basketball rebuild

By Peter Harriman The Spokesman-Review

North Idaho College has been good to the University of Idaho basketball team.

Gordie Herbert made his way down Highway 95 from Coeur d’Alene to Moscow, Idaho. He played on the best Vandals team in history, Don Monson’s 1981-82 squad that was ranked sixth in the AP and UPI polls and made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Following a long playing and coaching career in Europe, Herbert coached the German national team.

Then there was B.J. Blake. He was a first -team All-Big Sky Conference player for Don Verlin’s 2017-18 team and the league’s leading rebounder. He also played professionally in Europe.

Now comes Julius “Juice” Mims, who joined the Vandals this year after a two-year career at NIC. Like Blake, he has an affable, welcoming personality. Strangers are just friends he hasn’t met yet. If he hangs around long enough, Mims could become the mayor of Moscow. Like Blake, who led the Big Sky in rebounding with great fundamental positioning and diligence, Mims is all that with a breathtaking dose of elevation.

Perhaps the most famous leap in Moscow is former Vandals star Gus Johnson’s 1963 jump when, from a dead start, he slapped a ceiling beam 11 feet, 6 inches off the ground in the original Corner Club. A nail in the beam commemorated his prodigious feat. According to Corner Club owner Marc Trivelpiece, Mims managed to touch the current nail, memorialized in a skylight in the latest version of the iconic Vandals’ bar, albeit with a running start.

Regardless, flat-footed or with a stride of momentum, a highlight of Vandals games is watching Mims leap for lobs with the headlong enthusiasm of a Labrador retriever puppy and jam home baskets that prompt ICCU Arena spectators to erupt with roars of delight and chagrined, dunked-on opposing defenders to respond “Er, ah. Well…”

With a dozen new players arriving after Alex Pribble was named Idaho coach last March, Idaho (10-16 overall, 4-9 Big Sky) is coming off a solid stretch including Saturday’s 55-53 win over rival Idaho State. Winning three of their last six games, Mims and his teammates have reached a level of cohesion after spending the first half of the season learning to play together.

Mims is averaging 11.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, including a 14-rebound effort against Idaho State on Saturday and a 17-point performance in a close loss to Weber State on Thursday.

“A little wink, eye contact, they can just throw it up there, and I will go after it,” Mims says of chasing basket-high passes from teammates. A key assist partner, Quinn Denker, averages 12.3 points for the Vandals and 3.6 assists per game. He leaves opponents with a conundrum. When Denker drives “they have to make a choice. They have got to take Quinn or leave me open for a lob,” says Mims.

Before NIC and Idaho, Mims launched himself for the aptly named Skyview High School in Billings, Montana. It wasn’t only for basketball that he left the ground. Mims high jumped 6-foot-10. “I didn’t have the best form,” he acknowledges, “but I could get over the bar.”

The high school record in the U.S. is 7-5, which is at least within shouting distance of someone who can clear 6-10 with form he acknowledges was less than ideal. The UI high jump record is 7-3.75 and has stood since 1999.

As far as he knows, Mims says UI track coach Tim Cawley and Pribble have not had a conversation about Mims’ availability for the track team this spring, but he says “I would be totally down for it.”

Mims says he has met his predecessor with the Vandals, Blake, and it is no surprise to anyone in Moscow who ever met him when he was playing for the Vandals that Mims says of Blake: “I love B.J.”

Their gregarious natures are apparently similar. When the Vandals upended Montana State 81-75 in Bozeman on Feb. 3 – a game in which Mims dropped 15 points on the Bobcats and grabbed 14 rebounds – Mims had an exuberant cheering section. “Family, friends from Montana State, neighbors” and high school teammates all showed up for him, Mims says. “If you name it, they were probably there.

“I gave out about 40 or 50 hugs. It was great.”

Pribble says Mims “is the kind of kid who attracts fan support” not just for his game but “just for the kind of kid he is.”

As a new coach trying to build a team on the fly last spring, Pribble said he was lucky to be able to tap into the pipeline from NIC to the Vandals.

Mims “was one of the guys still out there. He had a lot of recruiting interest, but he hadn’t pulled the trigger yet.” The Bobcats went after Mims hard until coach Danny Sprinkle left MSU for Utah State, according to Pribble. When interest in Mims waned as the Bobcats were changing staffs, Idaho was able to step in and sign him. “I think he is very happy to be a Vandal,” says Pribble. For his part, Mims says it has been a good fit. He enjoys the UI and life in Moscow.

“I really do enjoy playing in coach Pribble’s system,” Mims says.

A season ago, when Mims was still starring for NIC, Idaho’s big man in the middle was Isaac Jones. A junior college transfer from Wenatchee Valley, Jones was the Big Sky newcomer of the year, second-team all-conference, and he averaged 19.4 points per game.

Jones elected to use his COVID year of eligibility to play a final season for Washington State, where he is averaging 15.5 points and 7.7 rebounds a game. Seeing Mims’ arm a foot above the rim as he corrals a lofted pass no doubt takes away a lot of the sting of losing Jones to the Cougars for Vandal fans. Mims says he and Jones are familiar with each other, since they played against each other in junior college.

“I know Isaac pretty well. He’s doing great things at WSU, taking care of business.

“He’s a little thicker than I am. But we’ve both got that bounce,” says Mims.

As Idaho heads into the final two weeks of its regular season – the Vandals hit the road to face Northern Colorado on Thursday and Northern Arizona on Saturday – Mims is delighted to be a key member of a team on a roll. He also looks forward to what Idaho can be next year, with a year of experience and of Pribble’s coaching.

This sounds fine to Pribble.

“For us,” he says, “this is about which guys are going to stick it out and help build this basketball program. Juice is one of those guys, for sure.”