James Michael McAdoo is the name that everyone is going to be talking about for North Carolina heading into the 2012-2013 season, but the Tar Heels will struggle if he is the only serviceable big man on the roster.
With Tyler Zeller and John Henson graduating, there will be plenty of minutes available alongside McAdoo. There will also be a number of candidates for the job.
6-foot-10 rising sophomore Desmond Hubert will be the only other veteran on the roster, although he was an under-the-radar recruit that was added late in the spring. Freshman Brice Johnson is the most highly-regarded front court newcomer, but at just 210 pounds, he may not be ready for the physicality of college basketball off the bat.
That brings us to Joel James, a 6-foot-10 center that is the definition of a big man. Not only is he a post presence, but as of 18 months ago, James was checking in at over 300 pounds. That wasn’t going to work given the style of play that Roy Williams favors, which is why it is a good thing that James is, in Williams’ words, “a big rascal who’s gotten a lot less big.”
As James told the AP, he’s lost more than 50 pounds and is now checking in at 260:
“That was a big part of motivating me,” James said. “Obviously going to a school like Carolina, if you’re not in shape and can’t run, you don’t play. I felt to get the best opportunity to play as a freshman, I have to get in the best shape I can.”
James said he weighed around 315 pounds at his heaviest before focusing on eating better and working harder. That commitment impressed his new coach, who said James first focused on improving in the classroom after his freshman year.
Williams called James “a big rascal who’s gotten a lot less big.” He said James left an impression on Zeller during a pickup game, with the 7-footer telling Williams afterward that James “hit him as hard as anybody had ever hit him in his four years.”
“He’s got a load, there’s no question,” Williams said. “When he whacks you, you’re going to know you’ve been hit. And we’ve got a tremendous need for size. I think he can do some good things for us.”
You need to be in shape to play up front for Williams, and it looks like James is buying into that concept. As his recruiting profile on ESPN says, “James must continue to work to get into excellent conditioning in order to play for longer periods of time.”
If he’s done this much on his own, imagine what can happen when Williams gets him into a conditioning program and in-season practices start.