When you think of UNC big men, and I mean big men, you think of those players who take up the low block with their massive size, their soft touch around the rim, their ability to clean up the glass on both ends of the floor, and the pure brute strength they use to finish around the rim. You think of guys like JR Reid, Eric Montross, Brendan Haywood, Sean May, and most recently Tyler Hansbrough. It’s time to welcome the newest addition of that group to Chapel Hill, Joel James.
I think when you sit back and analyze the new freshman class that UNC has, it’s easy to get lost in a guy like Marcus Paige, who is the heir apparent to our beloved Kendall Marshall, or a guy like JP Tokoto, who fans see as the second coming of guys like Vince Carter and Jerry Stackhouse with his leaping ability and pure athleticism. Those two guys are going to be great players, but don’t sleep on James. The big man has a lot going on that is worth being excited about.
For one, he’s huge. Joel James was recruited as a 6-10 big man weighing 315 pounds! Since his commitment, James has really put himself ahead of the curve by practically locking himself in the weight room and conditioning himself to be able to be a force down low while at the same time, being able to run the floor in UNC’s high octane offense. His weight from the beginning of this summer to now has dropped dramatically falling from 315 to a chiseled 260 lbs. Remember Sean May during his freshman year? He was a hoss down low, but his body wasn’t ready for the pace of the college game and he missed most of the season due to a foot injury. By the time his junior year came around, he was in prime shape to play Roy William’s system and really punished the opposition earning himself Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four on the 2005 National Championship. Joel James is like that, but a couple steps ahead.
James differs from the Hansbroughs and the Mays of the world because he wasn’t a Top 10 recruit. In fact, he has only capped out around 60 in the ESPNU class rankings, but most people don’t realize that Joel James has only played organized basketball for three years. That to me is insane! Imagine what James stock would be had he come through the prep circuit at a younger age? To me, that makes his ceiling so much higher than it already was. Once he starts banging with his teammates down low in practice on a regular basis, Joel is going to rapidly improve as a player fundamentally. The physical specimen that he is gives him the raw power needed to finish at the rim, but can score with his back to the basket similar to that of Hansbrough or Tyler Zeller. I personally think the jury is still out, but James has already stated that he isn’t the type of player that will look to score, but rather work hard, do the dirty work, and create opportunities for his teammates. That’s the type of mentality any coach wants from a player.
Joel James is in my honest opinion, the absolute biggest steal of the 2012 class and the ultimate diamond in the rough. His size and work ethic are very promising and his ability to learn the game at such a fast pace is very encouraging. With Carolina losing Zeller and John Henson from last season, James could be the guy that starts the season opposite of James Michael McAdoo on the low block at the start of the year. Will James be the guy we rely on to put up double digit scoring numbers every game? No I don’t think so, but will Joel James be critical to North Carolina’s success for the upcoming season? Absolutely.