Jordan Bone signed with the University of Tennessee as the No. 33 overall point guard in the country in the 2016 recruiting class.
That is according to 247sports. On ESPN, the six-foot-two point guard from Ensworth High School in Nashville wasn’t even ranked. But if you ask assistant coach Rob Lanier, he’ll tell you that, at the time, he thought Bone would end up the best point guard out of the 2016 class.
“When Rob Lanier came back from seeing Jordan Bone, there was no waver in his voice,” Barnes recalled Monday afternoon during his weekly press conference. “He said, ‘Hey, I’m telling you, this guy’s got it.’
“But he also knew it was gonna take time. I mean, he made that clear. And he didn’t know how long it would take.”
There were signs early on during Bone’s career that he had the potential to be great. It was the same flashes of brilliance that caught Lanier’s eyes on the recruiting trail. A quick first-step, the ability to blow by defenders, good court-vision, and the ability to be an excellent passer.
It led to Bone starting 17 games as a true freshman – a foot injury prevented him from starting more games – and 33 games as a sophomore. Bone averaged 7.2 points per game and 2.9 assists his first year on campus before averaging 7.3 points and 3.5 assists during his sophomore campaign.
“From the time that we went to see him play and met him, I mean, there was no doubt that was the commitment we wanted to make to him above all the other players that at the time we were recruiting,” Barnes said. “To watch him now start to connect the dots and do the things he’s doing and starting to see the game, it’s been really neat.”
Those dots have led to Bone being considered by many to be the best point guard in the SEC, and maybe even the entire country. On Monday afternoon, Bone was named by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as one of 10 players to the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award watch list.
When asked about where Bone’s improved play would rank among the point guards he’s coached, Barnes put the junior guard right near the top.
“He would be right there,” Barnes replied. “I don’t think it’s any great news that I’ve been as hard on him as any player I’ve ever coached.”
Barnes’ hard coaching has led to Bone being the most improved Vol on this year’s roster. In 21 games this season, he is averaging 13.6 points while shooting 47-percent from the field – nearly doubling his offensive production from a season ago.
More impressive than Bone’s scoring contributions is the way he’s taking care of the basketball. With an assist/turnover ratio of 3.6, Bone ranks sixth in the country and first in the SEC. His 6.6 assists per game rank 10th nationally and best within the conference.
“I said it after the game at College Station that he was tremendous talking in the huddle,” Barnes said. “Which I haven’t seen him do that, ever.
“Yesterday I asked him, ‘What got into you?’ He just said, ‘Coach, I’m learning.’ And the fact is that pretty much defines what he’s done since he’s been here. He’s always wanted to learn.”
There were speed-bumps along the way as is the case with most collegiate athletes. As a freshman and a sophomore, Bone turned the ball over far too much for the minutes he was playing. Looking back on it, Barnes thinks that Bone just didn’t understand how talented he is.
This season, Bone has accounted for just over 33 percent of Tennessee’s scoring counting his points and the field goals he’s assisted on.
“I don’t think he’s ever understood the game other than things, you know, he does it, because we say that’s what is supposed to be done,” Barnes said. “I think he’s starting to understand why it’s all happening, and how it’s all supposed to come together.
“He deserves the good fortunes he’s having, because, again, he’s worked hard, and he’s been through a lot, a lot of ups and down, but he’s stayed with it.”
In typical Barnes’ fashion, he was quick to point out that his star point guard can still get better going forward.
“He can be better,” Barnes said. “I think he knows that his best basketball is ahead of him if he’ll continue to work the way he’s worked up to this point.”