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Joel James has something to prove.
After not being selected for the Jordan Brand Classic in Charlotte a week ago, James will be playing in The Capital Classic in the Washington, DC area. The Capital Classic of course, is one of the longest running all-star games in the country and at one point was sponsored by Jordan himself.
I had a chance to watch James practice on Friday morning and caught up with him afterwards to talk about the game, UNC, his conditioning and more.
Right off the bat you notice just how much James has transformed his body since last year. Joel has slimmed down significantly.
I asked him about what type of conditioning he did to improve his body.
“Durring the season I incorporated a lot of running in my workouts, some weightlifting, but mostly running. A lot of sprints, a lot of mile runs. In that process I lost a lot of weight and now I’m working to just put it back on, in a good way”, said James.
Joel James was also recently selected to try out for the USA Basketball U18 national team in June. I asked him about the honor and what kind of chances he felt he had in making the team.
“Oh yeah, looking forward to it. Yeah, honestly I think so [will make the team]. There’s not a lot of bigs. Coming in and getting ready to try out there’s a lot of forwards so I feel like the center spot is kinda wide open right now. All I’ve got to do is go out there and give effort and show how good I really am. Leave it all on the floor”, Joel said.
James acknowledged the pressure of coming in and trying to replace guys like Tyler Zeller and John Henson right off the bat.
“You know, obviously, losing 4 of your 5 starters to the draft and just graduation, that’s a big gap to fill. I talk to Brice [Johnson], he’s also coming with me. He’s a four man, so we feel like as long as we put in the work in the offseason we’ll be pretty solid. Coach Williams is such a great coach and they know how to develop their bigs. He’s gonna find a way to make us win.
“Joel also spoke about how most folks have already penciled him in to the starting lineup. However, he said, “I don’t want to come in thinking anything’s going to be given to me, I want to come in and earn every minute I take.”
Lastly, Joel talked about the opportunity to play in the Capital Classic and practice against guys like future Maryland center Shaquille Cleare, another big bodied center who isn’t afraid to mix it up down low.
“It’s great. Going up against guys like Charles [Mitchell] and Shaq, you don’t get that everyday. Shaq is a big man. Charles is a big man. Ultimately, losing a lot of weight, I’m not as big as I used to be where I can just bang with these guys continuously. So I’ve got to figure out a way to play to my strengths and not theirs. Obviously, I’ve got to do my work early. Before they get on the block I’m trying to front them and just try to keep them out of the post. But it’s great coming and playing with all of these great guys. It’s just fun.”
There should be little doubt amongst Tar Heel Nation that the center position is in good hands next year with Joel James. He’s out to prove it.
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