NORFOLK, Va. --- James McAdoo isn't an easily excitable guy. Sitting in the first row of the bleachers in the gym at Norfolk Christian, he keeps an even tone when he talks about life, family and basketball.
McAdoo is bright and prepared, in a way. He's not rehearsed, but comfortable with his answers to questions. Whether it's the last movie he saw – Avatar, too long, almost fell asleep – or his shoe of choice – purple and orange Nike Foamposite Lites, colorful and surprisingly comfortable – McAdoo stays pretty even-keeled.
But when the topic of his religious beliefs comes up, McAdoo's demeanor changes slightly. He sits up purposefully, his eyes focus and his voice becomes more passionate. Those other things are what McAdoo does, this is who he is.
"I just feel God has blessed me more than I could ever imagine," McAdoo says. "Three years ago if you had told me I'd be going to the University of North Carolina, I couldn't have believed it. That was just the team I played with in video games. I would've never thought it."
Not everyone who attends Norfolk Christian School is Christian. There are requirements to go to church and the curriculum includes religious-based classes, but different students do different things with those teachings. With two parents heavily involved in the church and service work, McAdoo takes the lessons very seriously.
"I try to live by God's standards and the Bible … We've got ‘Christian' across this jersey," McAdoo said touching his chest. "We're trying to represent (that)."
McAdoo is the first to admit that living up to those standards isn't always the easiest thing to do.
Last summer when he was playing for Team USA U-16 in the FIBA Americas Championships in Argentina, McAdoo was reminded of that. He played well during the tournament, averaging 16.8 points and 8.6 rebounds as a starter for Team USA. But in the gold medal game all the good vibes evaporated with one shot.
"Basically it was just me going up for a rebound, the ball going over my head and the guy reaching and my arm getting yanked back. At the time I didn't think anything of it. I thought I just sprained it, tweaked it a little bit and I'd be fine," McAdoo said. "I was probably just running on adrenaline. I played the rest of the game and I was dunking."
After a few days of rest, McAdoo went to the gym to restart his lifting program but he couldn't lift his left arm over his head.
When McAdoo went to the doctor, they determined he had a torn labrum. He had surgery in July, was in a sling until August and wasn't scheduled to return to the court until January.
"It was the craziest thing. It had to be God but I don't know why he did it," McAdoo said. "It was definitely tough. I had so much planned for that summer but I didn't get to do any of it."
Lost in the disappointment with his injury was that for the first time since middle school, McAdoo had time to stop and think. This was the first opportunity he had to sit down and figure out where he was going to school.
McAdoo admits the recruiting process was not his favorite part of basketball recently. He wasn't comfortable with the attention. He didn't know exactly where he wanted to go to school but it seemed everyone else had made his decision for him.
With the last name McAdoo and with his father, Ronnie, growing up in Mebane, N.C., people assumed James was a lock to play for Roy Williams. Norfolk Christian assistant coach Jon Hutton teased James about it. The "L word" definitely irked him.
"Coach Hutton would print off these forums where people would say 'Oh McAdoo, he's a lock. He's going here,'" McAdoo said. "I don't know. I kind of really didn't like that because I was like, ‘How are they going to just say that?'"
McAdoo changed his tune when he visited Chapel Hill in November for alumni weekend. He went on the visit with no expectations of committing and was actually in the process of planning trips to Virginia and Duke the following weekends. But of course those visits never happened.
When McAdoo got to Chapel Hill and sat courtside when UNC legends took the floor, it put everything in a bizarre perspective.
"I remember I used to play March Madness on PS2 with Raymond Felton and Sean May in 2005," McAdoo said. "And I go to the alumni game and all those guys were out there and it was crazy.
"It gave me goose bumps."
McAdoo admits it's cliche to say it now, but the close atmosphere that weekend was palpable.
"You feel like family, immediately," McAdoo said. "The way (Coach Williams) treated my family. The way he treated me individually. Sometimes my sister will go down to a game down there and she'll tell me how much she loved it and how nice the people are there and people will know you by your first name. That's crazy to a 15-year old kid."
Following a meeting with Williams the next day, James committed – a move that even surprised him.
While James' mother Janet was caught off guard by the timing, the destination wasn't quite as surprising. When James was in the seventh grade, Janet remembers her son sending an email to Williams, saying he wanted to play for the Tar Heels.
"We got an email back from Coach McGrath that said ‘We appreciate your interest but due to NCAA regulations we're not allowed to do anything formal,'" Janet recalled. "But if you'd like to come down for a camp, here's the website."
The McAdoos still have that email and, not surprisingly, the" L word" doesn't bother him nearly as much.
"I guess in the back of my mind, I didn't know it yet but, yeah I was a lock to North Carolina," James laughed.
James' rehab progressed ahead of schedule. Rather than sitting out until January, he was back in November. It took him a while to get back to his old form but now his shoulder has completely healed.
The timing of the injury didn't make sense to James at the time but hindsight is a heck of a tool. With the time provided from the injury, James was able to shut out all the hype and think about where he wanted to be.
"I wish I had committed the day that coach Roy offered me. Just now that I see how perfect of a fit it is for me," McAdoo said. "It was just destiny for me to go there."