This might be recency bias talking, but my favorite North Carolina basketball team ever is probably the 2015-16 one. Yes, they didn’t win the national championship when others did, but I’m not sure I enjoyed any team’s wins as much as did last season. Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson certainly had something to do with that, but a lot of that was also to do with Joel James.
I spent a lot of James’ early career getting a bit frustrated with his play, like a lot of other fans, I’d imagine. It wasn’t always pretty. That’s probably to be expected of someone who didn’t play organized basketball until he was a sophomore in high school. That not to slight James, as he’s probably ten times the player of anyone reading this post. No offense. He got a scholarship to a major Division I program. He’s probably in the top 1% of basketball players in the world.
However, over the years, it became apparent that James meant a lot to the team. As fans, we really only ever see things on the court. We can often forget that players can have an impact off the court. For some players, that can get overstated and built up to a level that’s beyond its actual impact. However, these players are spending every day together. There’s something to be said for having players that people enjoy being around.
He also always gave full effort. Yes, that’s admittedly a cliched line, but that doesn’t make it any less true. His shot selection got occasionally frustrating, but it’s not like he ever took enough shots to truly hurt the team with it. He just got a little ambitious when he got the ball sometimes, which I find to be a perfectly good quality to have. That ability to try things is something I wish I had a little more of in my life.
And then there are the GIFs. Oh, the GIFs.
His cereal-eating celebration against Providence got people’s attention, but he had been photogenic for a long time prior to that.
Give Joel James the start EVERY GAME if he does this in intros https://t.co/e5zSGT6iAX— Mark Armstrong (@ArmstrongABC11) March 11, 2015
James appeared to have a complete willingness to be a dork on a national stage.
Joel James may not have been an all-time great player at North Carolina, but he was one of the most lovable people on one of the most lovable teams the school has ever had. And for that, he should be remembered fondly by Carolina fans. He was our dork.