Joel James has only played organized basketball since his sophomore year in high school which is absolutely amazing considering he was a four star prospect recruited to play on a basketball scholarship at one of the most prestigious programs in the nation North Carolina.
James has a ton of natural talent and a tremendous work ethic evident in the fact that he shed some 60 pounds off his frame then added back around 20 pounds of muscle before arriving in Chapel Hill. James looked tough early in the season with his soft touch around the basket, his nice turn around jump shot and his ability to own his spot in the paint and grab rebounds.
The freshman has struggled as of late to not only play at a high level but gain the confidence of head coach Roy Williams to put him on the court. Turnovers, silly fouls and a lack of defensive discipline have him relegated to the pine more than ever this season. After playing double digit minutes for each of the Tar Heels first nine games including two 20+ minute nights in which he averaged 16.5 minutes per game James has seen a significant drop off in his minutes. James has played no more than ten minutes in each of the last four games with a season low three in the latest contest against UNLV.
Since starting the season 7-8 from the field with 17 points in the first two games of the season James has scored no more than five points in any game and has shot just 10-25 in the last 11 games. James has rebounded the ball well at times this season with six games of four rebounds or more and four with at least six.
Lately however the freshman hasn’t played with the same power he displayed early in the year and his confidence seems to have taken a big hit. Williams has been very quick to give the freshman the hook after starting him against Texas Roy benched James after he committed four turnovers in just seven minutes in the first half and he watched the entire second half from the bench.
After a solid contest against McNeese State in ten minutes James made his only field goal attempt, hit both his free throws and grabbed five rebounds committing zero turnovers, only to see his minutes drop to a season low three minute cameo a week later against the Runnin’ Rebels.
UNC needs James to play like he did early on in the season. The Heels still have not settled on a starting center as Roy has flip flopped between James, fellow freshman Brice Johnson and sophomore Desmond Hubert. While Johnson has played the best of the three his defensive lapses have also earned him more time on the bench and Roy has went with the offensively inept Hubert.
Carolina starts conference play next week against Virginia and they need their most talented players on the floor and everybody needs to be able to contribute on both ends, in other words, they need James and Johnson in the game not Hubert. Don’t expect James to suddenly blossom into a physically dominate player this season, it’s just too soon and while that would be nice it’s not what the Tar Heels expect or need at this time.
James needs to show in practice and in the little playing time he gets that he will play with his mind, put himself in the right position, not force things and avoid mistakes that force him to the bench. Brice Johnson is too skinny to be a true center, in an ideal world Roy would be able to bring him off the bench for the rest of this season as a big time scoring threat and allow his body to mature in the off season. Desmond Hubert is not talented enough to start for Carolina period. The kid has shown flashes on the defensive end and can rebound at a decent level, but he isn’t Carolina starting material. James has the body, he has the offensive ability and he has the tools to be the guy Carolina needs but he’s running out of time to step up and prove it.
If James continues to leave his feet prematurely and commit silly fouls on the defensive end, put himself in the wrong positions and put up shots that aren’t his strength rather than playing within the offense and allowing the game to come to him Carolina might not ever get settled in the paint next to James Michael McAdoo this season. If he can he could be a big time spark plug for this team at the most important time of the season.