Joel James Best Games as a Tar Heel


Joel James came to Carolina as a 4 star prospect out of West Palm Beach Florida. Though he was considered by some to be the third best recruit in a 4 man class, he has easily been the biggest project of that group as the other three (Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, and JP Tokoto) have all grown and excelled.

Some of his stunted growth has been an effect of his circumstances. James’s freshman year was marked by the first small ball era in Roy Williams tenure at UNC after the team failed to develop a traditional post presence after the departures of front court stalwarts Zeller and Henson. His sophomore year saw him fall behind the depth chart to freshman Kennedy Meeks. It wasn’t until his junior year that he was able to finally play in every game of the season, but really didn’t become too impactful until after Desmond Hubert went down with a knee injury right before the Pitt game on Valentine’s Day (his minutes average jumped from 8.9 minutes to 12.1).

Of course, all of those circumstances were also partly of his own doing. Carolina had to go small because no one would step it up with McAdoo. Kennedy Meeks came into school in worse condition than James did but got more playing time because he worked hard to improve his conditioning where James did not. Even Hubert found ways to improve his overall defense and he was one of the biggest projects to come to UNC in quite some time.

All that said, Joel James has started 19 games and definitely has not been a total loss at UNC (thankfully, there can only be one Neil Fingleton), so what are his best games? Since last year he showed some real improvement and was voted co-recipient of the year that is probably the best year to look for his real gems.

Let’s start with most number of points in a game.

Points-11 (December 16, 2014 vs UNCG)

Joel James has only scored double digits in points twice in his career. This game stands out because not only did he tie his career high (the other time was versus FAU in 2012), scoring 8 of those 11 in the first half, but he did it shooting 5-7 from the field, making it his most efficient game when he shot the ball more than 5 times in a game. Though James was aided by the fact that the tallest Spartan challenger was only 6-9, Joel was still able to use this game as a strong step in helping him score 8 points the following game against a ranked Ohio State team that UNC beat by as many points.

Mar 12, 2015; Greensboro, NC, USA; Louisville Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell (24) dunks over North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) and forward Joel James (42) in the second half during the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum. The North Carolina Tar Heels won 70-60. Mandatory Credit: Evan Pike-USA TODAY Sports

Rebounds-6 (March 12, 2015 vs Louisville in the ACC Tournament)

Though James has had more rebounds in other games in his career, this was the most he received in a game that wasn’t a blowout versus an inferior team (his career high is 9 versus LBSU in 2012). In this game he had 2 offensive rebounds and was a strong presence inside helping Carolina take a game against a Cardinals team it had split during the regular season.

Minutes-19 (March 12, 2015 vs Louisville in the ACC Tournament)

More from North Carolina Tar Heels

As with the rebounds, Joel has had more minutes than in this game, though again against lesser competition (his career high is 22 versus that same LBSU team).  Despite not scoring any points, James started this game (his third start of the season and second in a row due to a Kennedy Meeks illness) and was a big body that was needed to beat a very physical Cardinals team on UNC’s way to the ACC championship game. Obviously this is one of the best games James has ever played as it was not only the pick for rebounds but minutes as well. Without James strong play in this game it is very possible UNC might have been seeded lower in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

So what should the Tar Heel faithful expect from Joel James this year? Based on past improvement, it is fair to expect about 12 minutes, 3 points and 3 rebounds per game while giving good defense and being a decent replacement for Meeks when he needs a rest or is in foul trouble. However due to the talent ahead of him on the depth chart (he is the second best center, but only the fifth best post player), not much should be expected of him as has been the case most of his career at UNC. James may be part of the next Championship team at Carolina, but that part should not be overall significant to what Carolina officially accomplishes on the court this season.