Joel James Gives It His All To Make USA Basketball U18 Squad
On Thursday night, 6'10" center Joel James (Dwyer H.S./West Palm Beach, Fla.) learned that he was one of 14 finalists for the 2012 USA Basketball Men's U18 National Team. The announcement was made by the USA Basketball Men's Junior National Team Committee following three days of training camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
After an evening practice on June 8, the players headed to the dining hall for dinner and to watch Game #6 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. They gathered at 10 p.m. to learn which 14 of the 23 participants would stay to compete for one of 12 roster spots on the USA Basketball team that will compete in the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
"Being judged by all of these college head coaches, there is always a sense of nervousness," James admitted. "But I felt that I gave all that I had in the tryouts, so I just decided to let the chips fall where they may."
Headed to play his freshman season at the University of North Carolina, James said he came into camp having already begun to seriously work on his game.
"A lot of people just see me as a one-dimensional player because I'm so big, so they just use me as a pick-and-roll guy or just a post defender," James said. "But I feel like I can expand my moves. I feel I have a great touch around the rim.
"I thought I came in (to training camp) feeling strong. I've been lifting and running and just getting prepared for Carolina. Coming here also gave me a chance to try out the new moves I've been learning, and to play against bigger players. It's been great."
For the first three days, training camp was all about evaluation, with the committee on hand to watch each session. Now that finalists have been selected, the squad continues to practice twice each day, but instead of mostly scrimmaging, they are in the hands of USA head coach Billy Donovan (University of Florida) and assistant coaches Mark Few (Gonzaga University) and Shaka Smart (Virginia Commonwealth University).
"The type of basketball program that I came from in high school, it was a high intensity program," James said. "Coming here, it's ultimately another level where you are actually face-to-face with these great college coaches. The intensity level is another step higher.
"I think I'm catching on as quickly as possible, and if I don't know things, I'm not afraid to ask questions. I'm getting used to playing at this level -- and playing at this high altitude. It's is like an extra bonus -- it will help give you a little extra wind before you head off to school."
The elevation of Colorado Springs is 6,035 feet, and the athletes feel the effect of "thinner" air. Luckily for James, he at least got warning from someone with recent, first-hand knowledge. His sister, Kai James, was named to the 2012 USA Basketball Women's U17 World Championship Team on May 20, after trials at the USOTC that featured 33 players. Kai will travel to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to compete for USA Basketball in the FIBA U17 World Championship Aug. 17-26.
"I'm one of 11 kids, and Kai is right after me," James explained. "She said it was a lot easier to run in Florida than in Colorado. She gave me a head's up. She was like, 'Joe, it is so hard. You lose your breath walking up steps.' I thought, oh man, this is going to be tough. The first day was really tough, traveling and playing at the high altitude. You get tired quickly, but you just got to keep pushing through it."
"(Kai and I) do work out together. When I have spare time, when I'm not working out and she's not working out, we try to combine our workouts. We shoot around and talk and things like that. I really enjoy talking to her, and she's a great person."
Kai and Joel attended Dwyer High School together this past season, and while Kai reached the regional semifinals with the girls team in her sophomore year, Joel averaged 14.6 points, 12.7 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game to help the boys team to the regional quarterfinals.
"It was definitely a learning season," James admitted. "Last year we won the state title, and that team had 11 seniors on it. Coming in my senior year and being one of five seniors and the rest are all underclassman and freshman, it's hard to try and keep the same expectations. I thought I worked hard though.
"I learned how to open up and speak and say what needs to be said. Try to be as great of a leader as possible."
The official roster for the USA Men's U18 National Team will be announced sometime before the team leaves for Sao Sebastiao do Paraiso, Brazil, and the FIBA Americas U18 Championship on June 12.
"It would be a great feeling (to be selected to this team)," James said. "I'm working this hard - I don't want to go home now. It's always a great thing to make a team, but a team of this caliber it's amazing because you are representing your country.
"Like they said in the team meeting, 'There are thousands of players in this country and only 23 were selected to even come to this training camp and only 12 make the team.' You've got to be one of the elite players in the country to be able to represent a USA team. It's great to even be in this atmosphere right now. It's pretty cool."