UNC’s James is confident in staking claim to starting role
North Carolina sophomore Joel James subscribes to the theory that confidence for a basketball player is like deodorant — if you don’t have any, you stink.
So while the 6-10, 260-pound center said he had the physical abilities to succeed this past season, it didn’t mean anything without confidence.
“I have the physical tools to be an NBA superstar one day,” James said. “Big person, run the floor, physical, I like contact. But along with the physical skills, you need to have a mental part of the game as well.”
Confidence doesn’t seem to be a problem any more. Though he only started playing pickup basketball on Monday because of tendonitis in his knees, James said Tuesday that he expected to be in UNC’s starting five when the season starts.
“Hopefully I can — no, not hopefully — I’m going to be a starting center,” James said before UNC held its first summer practice.
The opportunity certainly is there. Tar Heels coach Roy Williams tried Desmond Hubert, Brice Johnson and James in the starting lineup this past season but was so disappointed in the results that he scrapped the idea of starting a traditional center altogether.
Instead, he started a four-guard lineup down the stretch, moving power forward James Michael McAdoo into the five spot.
James said he felt a lot of anger and frustration as the year went on, knowing he wasn’t performing the way he was capable.
“Sometimes, I found myself wanting to go to Rams Head (Recreation Center) and beat up on some regular kids,” James said.
The West Palm Beach, Fla. native played 28 minutes in his first career game and got three starts in a four-game stretch in December. But his time decreased to 7.1 minutes during conference play, and he was on the court for just 22 minutes in the 13 games after Williams went to a smaller lineup.
He finished the year averaging 2.3 points and 2.4 rebounds, and committed a foul every 8.0 minutes.
It didn’t help that he said he played all year with bone spurs, which made it painful to run and jump. He had both knees cleaned out after the season, but still, he said it was mental struggles more than physical ones that held him back.
“In high school, there’s someone there holding your hand,” James said. “In college, you’re on a team full of grown men and you have to figure it out. Yeah, your teammates are there to help you out, but they can’t help you that long because they have to go (play) a game.
“You have to figure it out on your own, but that’s OK. Nothing I can do about it now.”
James, who didn’t play organized basketball until his sophomore year of high school, said Williams told him to focus on calming down and taking his time on the court. James also tried focusing on the positives about his game that caused UNC to offer him a scholarship in the first place.
Now the rising sophomore said he expects Williams to go back to a conventional starting lineup with a big man holding down the middle. And that man, he thinks, will be Joel James.
“I would hope so; that’s why I’m here,” James said. “I don’t want to be sitting on the bench no more. At that time, the smaller lineup was what worked for us. It helped us win a lot of games. But eventually, if you see this year’s schedule we play some big teams, some big people, and I don’t think that smaller lineup can guard some people of that size.
“Something’s got to give. Either I have to get better or inside we’ll get smacked around.”