by Megan Walsh, GoHeels.com
CHAPEL HILL - Freshman forward Joel James experienced plenty of firsts in North Carolina basketball's opening weekend.
After a six-point-and-four-rebound performance in his collegiate debut against Gardner-Webb on Friday, James made significant strides in between then and Sunday's game against Florida Atlantic.
The West Palm Beach, Fla., native put up 11 points and eight rebounds in just his second game in the Smith Center, as the Tar Heels took down the Owls 80-56.
James is determined to continue that improvement throughout his first season in Chapel Hill too - even if that means he had to experience coach Roy Williams' in-game temper for the first time to get there.
After taking off on the break a little too quickly while Florida Atlantic players were still taking shots, Williams let loose on James and fellow freshman J.P. Tokoto. But to James, Williams' yelling was just one more part of the learning experience and his drive to get better.
"Obviously when coach yells at you, it's a pretty scary thing," James said. "He's a small man, but he's very powerful. He can be very intimidating, but what he's preaching to us is right. He wants us to do the right things on the floor, so obviously you just have to take it all in and go out there and execute."
James, who started the second half, said Williams also had some words of encouragement for his freshman big man following the game.
"Coach said in the locker room, 'You've gotten better from last game to this game,'" James said. "But obviously there's still a lot of room for improvement."
Currently that means making smarter choices on defense. James said he is working on staying on the ground and fouling his opponents less.
But James' teammates are already impressed with what they have seen from James and the freshmen forwards.
"They're doing great," sophomore James Michael McAdoo said. "They're doing better than I was as a freshman, so I'm ecstatic for all of them. They're just a blessing to play with and they're great guys off the court. On the court they're just grasping the offense and the defense and just really buying in, which is what we need."
Junior guard Reggie Bullock added: "Joel's coming along very well for us. He's a big body, he runs the floor well, he's strong down low. It's coming along for him, so he's doing really good for us."
Players like McAdoo and Bullock have been key role models for James in his UNC career thus far. Since the forward didn't start playing organized basketball until 10th grade, James said he has acted like a sponge around the team's more experienced players, hoping to learn as much as he can as quickly as possible.
As the biggest player on UNC's roster in both weight and size, James added that he is eager to be a physical presence for the Tar Heels in the coming months.
Though still adjusting to the everyday demands of college life and the colder weather, James has been happiest with his scoring and, most importantly, helping the team start off 2-0.
"It is tough just physically with practice," James said. "We have practice on Monday, weights on Monday, practice on Tuesday. We have class, obviously, so studying. I actually have a paper to write for my drama class, so it's a lot. But you get through it. It's pretty rewarding when you get a win."