Originally published in SLAM 145
by Farmer Jones / @thefarmerjones
James McAdoo was on the phone from Florida, where he and his Norfolk (VA) Christian teammates spent the week before Christmas playing at the City of Palms Classic. One day earlier, they had knocked off nationally ranked Dr. Krop HS in their tournament opener, giving themselves a weekend off in sunny Ft. Myers. And they were loving every minute of it. “It’s about 70 degrees down here right now—shorts and t-shirt weather—and we’re just having fun,” McAdoo said. “Up in Norfolk, we had about four inches of snow the day after we left, so I’m just enjoying this good weather.”
It’s the sort of fun you can have when you’re one of the best high school players in America, and exactly the sort of experience McAdoo almost missed out on this winter. It was only last summer that McAdoo, a 6-9, 225-pound combo forward and top-10 recruit in the 2011 class, was seriously considering skipping his senior season at Norfolk Christian and enrolling early at North Carolina. With Ed Davis entering the NBA Draft and twin big men David and Travis Wear leaving the Tar Heels to transfer to UCLA, Carolina was left with a gaping hole in its frontcourt. McAdoo had already committed to the Heels and given his advanced academic standing at Norfolk Christian, it occurred to him that he might be just the guy to fill that hole immediately.
“Honestly, I was set to go,” says McAdoo, whose uncle is former NBA great and current Heat assistant coach Bob McAdoo. “The only credit I needed was 12th-grade English, so I withdrew from high school and had the online class set up. We had everything in place. I was going.”
Perspective stepped in to keep him home for one more year. In June, McAdoo headed to Europe with the U-17 US national team, starring on the squad that went unbeaten en route to winning the U-17 world championship. He had planned to make it all official as soon as he got back from Germany, but between the end of the school year and his Euro trip, McAdoo took another journey that changed everything. “I was able to go on a school mission trip to Nicaragua, and that just really humbled me,” he says.
Nearly two weeks spent in third-world surroundings helping desperately poor people rebuild tattered huts and delivering food to orphans altered the way McAdoo looked at the world. Already a poised and faithful kid, he came back home shook by what he’d seen. He knew how lucky he was. He didn’t want to waste it by being in a hurry. “After I got back from that mission trip, it was basically, ‘I just want to be a kid,’” he says now. “I know I could never get back my senior year of high school.”
So he came back, eager to lead his prep team to the sort of upsets they pulled off in Florida, to experience the All-American games, and mostly just to enjoy that final year before something resembling real life kicked in. All of which is not to say he doesn’t think about what might have been. “To play for the University of North Carolina as a 17-year-old kid would’ve been great, but I’m having way more fun with my high school teammates and being around my family,” he says.
Instead, the Heels will wait one more year to add the scoring, defense and rebounding this hardworking hybrid forward will bring with him to Chapel Hill. Consider him right on time, and worth the wait.