CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Following a two-game stretch that dulled his confidence, Joel James received a pep talk from a Tar Heel great prior to Saturday’s tip against Georgia Tech.
The senior center, who has started the last six games in place of the injured Kennedy Meeks, had scored one point with four missed field goals in UNC’s previous two wins over UNCG and Clemson. During pregame warmups on Saturday, Sean May, the 2005 NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and UNC’s current assistant to the director of player development, sought out James to provide some advice.
“I just felt a little frustrated with myself,” James told reporters after the win. “I wasn’t playing how I wanted to play or playing how I was capable of playing. I questioned myself a little bit, but I had a talk with Sean, and he told me to keep believing in myself and to just go out there and play, because you don’t get many moments to play in this gym, because this is my last year.”
James responded by tying his career high with 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting in 21 minutes. He also grabbed five rebounds.
"The big fella early, Joel, was really something for us," UNC head coach Roy Williams said. "I think he would have scored one of the other times if he hadn't dribbled it before trying to go up. He tries really hard. You can't be a greater kid, a greater person than Joel James, so I’m extremely happy for him."
James scored three quick baskets due to Georgia Tech’s decision to hold its hedge on perimeter balls screens, leaving the 6-foot-11, 280-pounder temporarily matched up with a guard underneath.
“I saw that once I set the screen on the guard and rolled to the rim, the big guy for Georgia Tech was helping them along, so that caused a switch between my post player and their guard, so the guard was stuck guarding me,” James said. “I just tried to post them up as well as I could and get the ball in the area that I wanted the ball.”
His play in his previous two starts forced James to question his role with the team.
“You go through a couple of games where you feel like you’re just not doing well, you feel like you shouldn’t be out there,” James said. “It just takes a talk by somebody like Big May just to remind yourself that you can actually play, so that helps.”
When Isaiah Hicks subbed in for James after his initial scoring burst, he failed to recognize the loud ovation he received from the Smith Center crowd.
“I was tired, bro,” James said. “I was like, ‘Man, I need to get some drink of water.’”