Joel James has a big number to fill

Sophomore forward Joel James willingly abandoned the No. 0 jersey he wore last season to allow freshman Nate Britt to wear it. The 5-foot-11 guard wore it throughout high school -- with the exception of his lone season playing at Oak Hill Academy last year – and wanted it back.

James, who averaged 2.3 points and 2.4 rebounds as a freshman last season, had no sentimental attachment. He was one of just two players (Jesse Holley) to ever wear the single zero at Carolina so he gladly released it to Britt.

“I wanted to keep him happy,” James said. “He wore it his whole life that was my first time wearing it.”

Before choosing his next number James said he wanted a greater meaning behind it and settled on No. 42 for a reason.

There are three honored jerseys hanging in the Dean E. Smith Center rafters from players who wore 42 -- Brad Daugherty, Jerry Stackhouse and Sean May. It is tied with six other numbers (22, 30, 34, 35, 40 and 44) for the most players with honored jerseys. James literally wanted to elevate his game to their levels.

“I wanted to change my number just to set a goal for myself,” James said. “Great players wore that number -- Big May and Stack -- I set a challenge for myself.”

May did some of the challenging as well. May was talking on the phone to director of player development Eric Hoots, who informed him James would be wearing 42 this season. Given that James is the first player to sport the number since May in 2005, May wanted a few words with James.

“Hoots gave me the phone, (May) said, ‘Hey I don’t want you dropping any passes. I had great hands in that number so you’ve got to represent,’” James said. “I was like, ‘I’ll do as best I can.’”

James might not reach the heights of getting an honored jersey (which the criteria is one of the following: ACC Player of the Year, first or second team All-America, team MVP of NCAA title team, Final Four MOP, or Olympic gold medalist) unless he breaks the cycle.

The next player to wear the number after an honored jersey hasn’t maintained the same success. Scott Williams wore it after Daugherty and Kris Lang had it after Stackhouse. (That’s not to say they weren’t successful, after all, Daugherty, Stackhouse and May were all NBA lottery picks.)

For James, who has only played organized basketball since the 10th grade, Williams might be the best measuring sticks. Williams improved from his freshman to sophomore season going from 5.5. points and 4.2 rebounds per game to 12.8 points and 6.4 rebounds.

James probably won’t notch double figures scoring this season, but all signs point to him being an improved player.

“I feel like I’ve developed a lot of things, I’ve sharpened some tools,” James said. “I feel good about it.”