UNC's Joel James likely to sit out ACC opener at Wake Forest

Jan. 03, 2014 @ 06:46 PM

No. 19 North Carolina is expected to be without sophomore center Joel James when the Tar Heels open ACC play at Wake Forest on Sunday (8 p.m., ESPNU).

James started the first 10 games, but sprained the MCL in his right knee in the first minute against Texas on Dec. 18 and has missed the past three games.

The 6-10, 280-pound James began running again on Monday but was still limited on Friday.

“I don’t think he will (play Sunday),” UNC coach Roy Williams said after practice Friday. “He did participate in some of our stuff today, but I think it’s a little bit of a push to try to get him there. I’m not going to say completely, but I don’t think so.”

James is averaging 3.7 points and 4.3 rebounds in 12.5 minutes.

Sophomore Brice Johnson and freshman Kennedy Meeks have been solid off the bench but were ineffective while starting in place of James.

Johnson, who averages 11.4 points and 6.7 rebounds, combined for 11 points, nine rebounds and five turnovers in his two starts. Meeks went scoreless for the first time this season and committed four turnovers in his first career start, Tuesday against UNC Wilmington.

The Tar Heels might miss James’s inside presence on Sunday. Wake Forest has the ACC’s leading rebounder (Devin Thomas, 9.3) and is 11th in the nation in team rebounds (42.8). UNC is 18th in team rebounds (41.2).

Both teams enter the ACC opener 10-3. The Demon Deacons are 9-0 at Joel Coliseum but have yet to face a ranked team at home.