North Carolina Basketball: Why Tar Heels' Joel James Is a True 2012 Sleeper

Rollin YeattsFeatured ColumnistJuly 4, 2012

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

From pudgy bunny to gladiator, UNC's Joel James has transformed his physique in a matter of one year. With that, he has also transformed his status from "overlooked" to a true 2012 sleeper.

Roy Williams hit the jackpot with James—and the timing was impeccable.

The North Carolina Tar Heels took a big hit in the middle, when the dynamic duo of John Henson and Tyler Zeller took off for the NBA. The only players left to fill the open slots have yet to prove themselves as a force in the paint. This gives James ample room to shimmy into a starting role.

As a matter of fact, he almost found himself on the USA Basketball U-18 squad this summer—a squad that includes household names, such as Nate Britt, Rodney Purvis, Rasheed Sulaimon and Julius Randle.

Joel James was one of the final two cuts. Don't tell him it was a waste of time, though, as he explained to Adam Lucas of

“I was playing against some of the best players you can find at that level. I'm so glad that I went, because it was a great learning experience. The coaches really pushed you. It showed me how to play at a high intensity rate and the importance of doing every drill as hard as you can, because that's how it is going to be in college basketball.”

I can't argue with his mentality there.

By all accounts, it appears Joel James has his head on straight. And after just three years playing the game of basketball, he is slowly creeping into the spotlight. Dropping his weight from 315 pounds last summer to a chiseled 260 pounds this summer has played a big part in that.


But what got him there? Joel James answers that question in an interview with Draft Express.

“Going to Carolina is obviously a running-style offense, so I pretty much focused in on running a lot. Just a lot of sprints, a lot of conditioning drills, like running miles and things like that. I pretty much just kinda locked myself inside the weight room and just tried to get stronger and faster.”

That, he did.

In past articles, I've mentioned what I feel his role will be as he dons the Carolina blue. I didn't see him as a primary scorer, as he is still developing his post game. But I did see him as the anchor on defense and a relentless rebounder.

Earlier in the interview with Draft Express, Joel James verified my analysis.

"I don't look to score that much. I, really, my teammates do that. I mean, I just figure I do the dirty work and just bang inside and crash the boards.”

“There's always a need for a player like myself. You know, like you said, a big strong-bodied player that can come inside and play inside the paint. And that's just what I intend to bring to Carolina. Just a good defensive presence inside and just be angry.”

“Be angry,” he says. That's what I like to hear from a 6'10” and 260-pound mammoth.


As reported by News & Record, Roy Williams also made reference to James' presence in the middle, during his summer press conference—the way only ol' Roy can.

“He’s a big rascal, who’s gotten a lot less big. He’s got a lot of growing to do. Last year on his official visit, (Zeller) told me he hit him as hard as anyone hit him his 3-year college career. He’s got a load. When he whacks you, you know you’ve been hit. We have a tremendous need for size. Maybe it’s all dreams and hopes, but we’ll see when he gets here.”

On top of the increasingly obvious beast mode he plays with, James also positions himself very well on the floor. For now, that works in his favor for stockpiling rebounds and blocks.

Eventually, it will favor him in the post.

There is no way Roy Williams wastes that body on just defense. He will squeeze every ounce of basketball player he can get out of that 260-pound frame over the next two to four years. That's just what he does with his post men.

Will James be an offensive juggernaut in 2012? Most likely he won't, and he may miss out on some shine because of it. But he will make a name for himself on the defensive end of the floor—and only the fearless will enter his paint.

Soon enough, people will see that I'm not just blowing smoke. I was just the first to hop on the Joel James Express. Folks better get out of the way, because this train is running through Chapel Hill—and taking out anything in it's path.