James Starting Fresh

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Joel James was never able to regain his early-season form following a knee injury last December. With his sophomore campaign now tucked away, the sizable rising junior is looking to open the 2014-15 season in similar fashion.

The 6-foot-10, 280-pound center described last season as "okay" on Wednesday in an interview with reporters at the Smith Center.

James started UNC's first 10 games, averaging 3.7 points and 4.3 rebounds, before spraining the medial collateral ligament in his right knee on the opening play against Texas on Dec. 21.

According to James, the injury sidetracked his early start and knocked him out of his rhythm. He missed four games, and although he started three of his first four contests back, his production dropped. James didn't start another game after UNC's loss to Virginia on Jan. 20.

The West Palm Beach, Fla. native made 15 field goals in the 10 games before his injury. He made four field goals in his final 20 games of the season.

"I wish I could have stayed where I was - before I was hurt - mentally," James said. "That took a lot coming back and trying to get back to my old self, but I feel pretty good now."

So far this offseason, James's emphasis has been on making shots and working with strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian.

"I've gotten stronger in the weight room," James said. "I've made a lot of shots with Coach [Hubert] Davis, so I feel like it's starting to translate into my on-court performance."

There has been a lot of focus on his mechanics. Due to the size of his hands, James has had to stress having the ball release off his fingertips and not off his palm. He's also worked to establish a solid base and get the ball above his head before shooting.

His hook and turnaround jumper remain his favorite and counter shots of choice, although he admits that he has a tendency to focus too much on utilizing those shots instead of playing off what the defender is doing.

James said he's also benefitted from playing pickup ball this summer against NBA-size players such as Tyler Hansbrough and Tyler Zeller, learning tricks of the trade and how to improve his game.

His combination of size and strength provide two critical, fundamental pieces to success on the defensive end of the floor.

"Defensively, I feel like I can match up pretty much with any big guy there is in the country on the block or inside the paint," James said. "I'm not worried about that. The only thing I'm worried about is moving my feet on ball screens and out on the perimeter."

While the physical items are critical, the area where James has made significant growth is in the mental game. It was actually possible to see his confidence level drop after poor plays last season.

According to James, that's no longer the case.

"I know it's okay for me to mess up, to make a mistake," James said. "It's not the end of the world. My first two years I struggled with that. I slowly learned that it's okay, there's always going to be another play. What really matters is the next play and how you react to it."

James indicated that he's working primarily behind Kennedy Meeks in pickup games this summer.

 

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