Scouting Report: Joel James

Rob Harrington reviews his notes from the road and compiles a comprehensive scouting report on 2012 Tar Heel commitment Joel James ...

    Joel James
    6-10, 280
    Center
    Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Dwyer
    Class of 2012

    Narrative

    Life as a nationally ranked center began inauspiciously for James. He grew relatively late and didn't begin playing organized basketball until his sophomore season, and during that short span he surpassed many of those whose reputations exploded earlier in the process.

    In short order, James emerged during his junior season as one of the many high-major frontcourt prospects within the Class of 2012. His recruitment gained steam slowly and gradually led to scholarship offers from the in-state and other regional schools, followed by more national programs during the summer and fall.

    North Carolina's interest dates back approximately 10 months. Roy Williams watched James during his junior year and the Tar Heels continued to evaluate him during the July live period, offering him this fall.

    Assets

    Size is James' top attribute. He's not only tall but, unlike many high school big men, won't need to bulk up for college. He also possesses long arms -- a reported 7-4 wingspan -- enabling him to play even taller than his actual height. In a world filled with 6-8 college centers, James is a more traditional five-man in terms of his basic physicality.

    Another aspect of his game that runs contrary to trend, James himself understands and embraces his role as a dedicated post player. He doesn't float to the three-point line, attempt to put the ball on the floor or harbor ambitions of becoming a face-up shooter in the NBA. He's developing the skills and style of play best suited for what he'll need to be at the highest levels of the sport, and his progress is evidence that he has adopted a sound approach to his career.

    And James isn't just big; he actively uses his bulk to create contact and seal off opponents. He isn't a bruiser in the purest sense, but no one will tell you that he's shy of contact, either.

    Clearly, his best days lay ahead. Evaluating James or any other unrefined big man requires one to discuss what he will be or at least can be, rather than what he is presently. Ultimately, he has the excellent size and body type -- along with very good hands -- to become a truly powerful interior defender and defensive/positioning rebounder. The southpaw also does hit occasional short-range jump shots, suggesting that his offensive game at least could become more balanced than his current limitations suggest.

    Deficits

    As a scorer, James definitely must be considered a project. He doesn't yet have the post moves or knack for finishing around the rim that his higher-rated contemporaries possess, and his relative lack of straight-up leaping ability cause him to get more shots blocked and altered than you might expect.

    There's also the matter of conditioning. James has shown this to be a priority, losing a self-reported 15 pounds this fall, but he needs to continue to shed the unnecessary weight and improve his conditioning to run full speed for more than a few minutes at a time. His activity level obviously suffers due to his inability to sustain high exertion for longer stretches, something that he should be able to improve without too much difficulty in college.

    Meanwhile, he hasn't yet mastered the nuances of positioning, either individually or understanding where his teammates and opponents are located. Developing basketball IQ typically requires years of seasoning, and this is an area obviously impacted by his late entrance into the game.

    Evaluating James athletically is a difficult task simply because no one knows how he'll respond to changes in his body. If he were to boil down to a strong and toned physique, the speed, quickness and leaping ability issues that hurt his production now might dissipate entirely. It's impossible to know until he shapes himself into that condition.

    College Projection

    In a sense, James almost has to be evaluated as a high school freshman or sophomore. Assessing young big men at that early stage requires a great deal of guesswork and tremendous patience with limitations. Scores of very successful big men needed years to refine their craft, and that includes those who'd been playing their entire lives.

    James at this point hasn't been overly productive on the travel circuit because he's both a hoops neophyte and — a fact that's frequently overlooked — was only 6-6 as a sophomore. He hasn't been playing basketball for long and hasn't been that big for long, either, two realities conspiring against him on the court for the time being.

    So, there's no realistic expectation for how effective he'll be in college because the necessary information about his game doesn't exist. All scouting requires educated guesswork, but the library of evidence normally at our disposal is more of a bookmobile in this instance.

    He unquestionably lacks the skills and track record Roy Williams usually covets in post players, but he just as unquestionably has traveled a vast distance as a player — assisted in large part by an admirable work ethic and clear understanding of what he needs to be —during a limited timeframe. Whether his progress rate maintains, slows or hastens will determine how effective he can be in college, and how soon.

    For the time being, it's probably safest to project him as a low-output scorer during his freshman and sophomore seasons. My guess is that he'll develop more quickly as a space-eating defender and rebounder, and over time he should be able to utilize his wide body and long arms to solve the shotblockers he struggles against right now.

    His ranking in the lower portion of the top 100 makes sense as a hedge. He could become a pleasant surprise who races past a substantial number of peers — as he has done already — or he could become a more modest, four-year player. Either way, from Carolina's perspective he addresses the roster's most critical need and thus is more valuable to the Tar Heels than he would be to others.

Rob provides basketball recruiting coverage for InsideCarolina.com, including reporting from events throughout the country. Rob is editor of the national basketball recruiting website PrepStars.com and the print magazine Recruiter's Handbook. He also covers UNC basketball games for the Independent Weekly and writes a freelance column for USAToday.com. Rob is a member of the Naismith committee honoring the nation's best high school player and is on the selection committee for the McDonald's All-American Game.


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