And if not a teacher, then he’d be a chef.
Those two professions are different but supportive in their own ways. Both teachers and chefs are often inspiring and comforting. And that fits with what’s been said about the senior forward, who is one of the most active and emotional players on the bench and court, high-fiving teammates and shooting searing glares at opponents.
“Whether he plays a lot or not, he’s still going to be a great teammate,” junior forward Kennedy Meeks said after an exhibition game against Guilford on Nov. 6. “He’s still going to stand up and clap for you.”
James is supportive for his team and now, for all student-athletes. He’s the ACC representative on the NCAA’s National Student-Athlete Advisory Committee — a role he said gives him confidence and will allow him to create and vote on legislation to benefit student-athletes.
James, who is often the biggest person in the room, has stepped into bigger roles this season.
At 6-foot-11 and 280 pounds, he’s the biggest player on UNC’s team.
And being big, his mother taught him, automatically demands attention.
“Having that attention is one thing,” James said. “But speaking and saying the right things when it’s needed is another thing.”
The senior forward has matured — a lot — during his four years at UNC.
A native of West Palm Beach, Fla., James didn’t start playing basketball until his sophomore year of high school.
But after three years of experience, as well as a summer of expanding his knowledge of playing the post under the tutelage of former UNC big men Sean May and Brendan Haywood, he feels more patient on blocks. He’s not afraid of the double team anymore or to dribble the ball to make a move.
“The game has slowed down,” he said. “I feel like my game has expanded a lot. I’m fully confident in it.”
“Joel (James) is one of the most improved (players) on our team,” Meeks said. “He’s very composed.”
Between his sophomore and junior years, James made a jump in minutes played — from 7.9 to 10.1 — and in points, improving to 2.5 per game a season ago compared to 1.7 his sophomore year.
And some of his best games came when UNC needed him most. No one can forget how well James defended former Duke star Jahlil Okafor or how he ripped his own jersey after UNC lost to Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium in February.
James has continued to improve, and he supports his team emotionally in a big way — and that commands attention.