North Carolina Tar Heel freshman Joel James physically looks like no other player head coach Roy Williams has ever had. When you look at him the first thing that comes to mind is man, this guy is huge. The crazy thing about it all is that James used to actually be bigger. When he committed to Carolina, he weighed about 30 or so pounds more than he does now. James was pretty overweight, but still showed the type of skills Roy was looking for.
James also has proven that he has the work ethic. Joel shaved nearly 60 pounds off his massive frame before putting on 20-30 pounds of muscle before arriving at Chapel Hill. He no longer looks massive in the wrong ways, he looks like a very fit, tone machine. Just looking at him through the TV I got a little bit nervous, I can’t imagine how opposing defenders feel.
The thing that is interesting about his game is that he doesn’t play like a Shaq style of banging in the paint. He’s more of a finesse offensive player, with a ton of skill. James has a nice mid-range jump shot to go along with a nice turnaround. His soft touch was on display at Late Night with Roy as he knocked down a few jumpers looking very confident in his approach. He is not a timid freshman, when he receives the ball in the post, or open facing up within his range, he pulls the trigger.
He has a nice handle, isolated on the perimeter he didn’t act like most big men who look like they are lost out there. He dribbled around until he found a perimeter player to pass to and went about establishing position in the paint. In other words, he’s not just big, he’s a very talented basketball player.
One of the biggest questions heading into this season was who is going to step up beside sophomore James Michael McAdoo inside the paint. James wasn’t the only other big man to play well, fellow freshman Brice Johnson looked good as did sophomore Desmond Hubert, but it was James who impressed me the most.
Roy has already all but anointed freshman Marcus Paige the starting point guard position. After losing four of the first 17 picks in the NBA Draft, it looks as if Roy is bucking his trend of almost always playing upperclassmen over freshman. With Paige already obviously the best PG on the team, Joel James will be given the opportunity to become a starter and major contributor on this team.
This team is going to need scoring with all the lost production to the NBA. Hubert is probably the better defender right now and Brice might have a higher ceiling among the freshman bigs, but it is James that looks like he might be the most ready to contribute an all around game to the Tar Heels.