Josiah-Jordan James Will Have Major Responsibility Right Away for Tennessee
In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. In 2019, six of the top 10 NBA draft picks were one-and-done, and eight of the 14 lottery picks overall. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond. Just look at last year’s group of rookies we profiled: Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans, Jalen Smith and Devon Dotson lead a whopping 12 former 2018 five-stars back for a sophomore season.
With all of that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball for 2019–20 and breaking down the impact those players could have. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. Next up is the No. 20 overall recruit, Tennessee's Josiah-Jordan James. You can view all of the profiles to date here.
What He Means for Tennessee’s Recruiting Class
Josiah-Jordan James, a 6’6” point guard from Charleston, S.C., is the only incoming five-star commit in Tennessee’s 2019 recruiting class. James will join three-star forwards Olivier Nkamhoua, Drew Pember and Davonte Gaines in Knoxville along with two transfers, former Arizona State seven-foot center Uros Plavsic and Oregon transfer Victor Bailey, neither of whom are immediately eligible as Plavsic still awaits the NCAA’s ruling on his appeal. James is the highest-rated recruit to sign with the Vols during Rick Barnes’s tenure and is the first McDonald’s All-American to join the program since Tobias Harris in 2010. His commitment was crucial for a rebuilding Tennessee team in a class without any other backcourt players. A three-time state champion, James averaged 29.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 5.3 blocks and 4.9 assists per game his senior season at Porter-Gaud School en route to South Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year honors and should bring some spark to the Vols’ offense.
How He Fits
Fifth-year senior guard Lamonte Turner will be the unquestioned leader of this new-look Tennessee team—the Vols lost their top three scorers to the draft, plus forward Kyle Alexander to graduation and sophomore power forward Derrick Walker, who transferred to Nebraska—but James will be a big part of Barnes’s backcourt from Day 1. And with Jordan Bone off to the NBA, the responsibility of running the floor will now fall to Tennessee’s star signee. Despite the departures, James still has veteran talent around him including Turner and Jordan Bowden, another senior, to help ease the transition. Turner is more of a true shooting guard while Bowden could play either the two or three depending on need. Those two bring experience to the guard group and will help guide James as he figures out how to most efficiently facilitate at the college level while competing in the SEC.
The centerpiece of an offseason roster overhaul, James is the obvious early impact recruit in the 2019 class and will step right into minutes. With the physicality to match Tennessee’s traditional toughness, James is an all-around contributor with the size, strength and skill to keep this team in conference contention. His consistency and outside shooting need to improve, but his passing feel is promising as is his defensive potential, especially for someone right out of high school. He’s athletic and has the physicality to help defensively. He’s a strong rebounder and can play as part of three-guard lineups if Barnes needs.
He’s a grab-and-go threat who thrives in transition, but his frontcourt options will be rather limited after the Vols missed out on Virginia Tech grad transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. and lost redshirt freshman D.J. Burns to the transfer portal. Tennessee will enter the 2019–20 season with John Fulkerson as the only big man with any significant experience, although junior Yves Pons could play more of a three/four role to add a dose of experience in a smaller lineup. Even with Fulkerson and Pons on the floor, the loss of Alexander, Walker, Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Burns is a tremendous amount of frontcourt turnover at once, placing immediate pressure on the incoming recruits to contribute. Barnes could also rely on a more guard-heavy, small-ball lineup—which would become even more heavily dependent on James’s individual success—while he figures out his frontcourt.
Importance to Tennessee's Success/Team Outlook
Despite losing four of its five starters, Tennessee still brings back enough talent to contend as long as James can adapt to the college game quickly. Tennessee has a void in terms of ball handling and decision-making, where James should fit well. He can also help set the tone defensively for this team, but Barnes has to figure out how to make his new puzzle pieces work given that he lacks an obvious starting five in the traditional sense. The frontcourt is inexperienced, while the backcourt after Turner and Bowden is in much of the same boat between James and a few other faces who’ve seen very limited time on the floor (Brad Woodson, Jalen Johnson). While a roster rebuild is clearly happening and the losses of Bone, Grant and Schofield combined might’ve caused Tennessee to fall out of SI’s way-too-early Top 25 rankings, there’s enough talent to survive the season while Barnes develops a new core around James.