When Jordan Bone first arrived at Tennessee, the Vols were mired in one of the worst stretches in program history.
Heading into Bone’s first season with the Vols, Tennessee was coming off their first losing season since the 2004-05 campaign. In Rick Barnes’ first year at UT during the 2015-16 season, the Vols went just 15-19 overall and went an abysmal 6-12 in conference play. Those 12 SEC losses were the most since the 1996-97 team also lost 12 SEC games. Before that season, Tennessee had gone 16-16 in Donnie Tyndall’s lone season as head coach, and he was fired amidst an NCAA investigation into his time at Southern Miss.
Bone’s first year at Tennessee didn’t go much better than the year before he arrived, though. The Vols went 16-16 in Bone’s freshman campaign, earning just eight SEC wins to 10 losses.
In a three season stretch from 2014-17, Tennessee went 47-51 overall and just 21-33 in SEC play. And it wasn’t like the SEC was the deep and competitive conference it is now, either.
That 21-33 record in conference play was the Vols’ worst three-year record in the SEC since Tennessee went 10-38 against SEC opponents from 1992-95 under Wade Houston and one year of Kevin O’Neill.
It’s safe to say that the culture for Tennessee’s men’s basketball program wasn’t an extremely positive one when Jordan Bone was first at UT. But now, that culture has changed significantly in just a couple years.
In an interview on ABC10 after a workout with the Sacramento Kings, Bone was asked how much it meant for him to help rebuild the Vols and take them from the basement of the SEC to one of the top teams in the league. In his answer, he gave props to head coach Rick Barnes and his own teammates for helping not only resurrect the program, but for completely altering the culture, too.
“It means everything,” Bone said of helping rebuild Tennessee. “Vol Nation understands my love for them. I gave everything when I was there. I left there with no regrets. I feel like next year’s team is going to have a great season because the culture there has changed. Coach Barnes has definitely shifted the program and has done a great job with that, along with the assistants and the players coming in.
“I’m rooting for those guys 100 percent. I’ll always be a VFL, and I’m just wishing those guys the best for sure.”
In Bone’s sophomore year, Tennessee shocked the college basketball world by going 26-9 overall and winning a share of the SEC regular season title after earning a 13-5 conference record. Before the season began, the Vols were picked by the media to finish 13th out of 14 teams in the SEC.
Instead, they shared the regular season title and made it to the SEC Tournament Finals for the first time in about a decade.
Bone’s junior season saw Tennessee ascend to No. 1 in the AP Poll for four-straight weeks, and the Vols made it back to the SEC Tournament Finals. Tennessee also earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and reached the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2014.
Over the last two years, Tennessee has gone 57-15 overall and 28-8 in conference play. That overall record is the best two-year stretch in program history, and the Vols’ 28 SEC wins in two combined seasons are the most since Tennessee won 30 combined conference games in the 1975-76 and 1976-77 seasons.
The culture at Tennessee has undergone a complete 180-degree shift, and Bone was a large reason why.
Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield got most of the attention for Tennessee the last two seasons, but Bone showed just as much growth and development as those two. He went from unheralded point guard recruit to one of the better floor generals in school history in his three years at UT.
In his first year with the Vols, Jordan Bone averaged 19.6 minutes a game in 23 total appearances, and he averaged just 7.2 points, 2.9 assists, and 1.7 rebounds while shooting 37.2 percent overall and just 30.3 percent from three.
By the time Bone finished his junior season, he had put together one of the best seasons as a UT point guard in school history.
Bone started all 37 games for Tennessee this past season, and he set career-highs in almost every statistical category. The Nashville native averaged 13.5 points, 5.8 assists, and 3.2 rebounds in 32.9 minutes a game while shooting 46.5 percent overall and 35.5 percent from three. Bone’s 215 total assists this past season were the third-most in a single season in school history, and his 2.91 assist-to-turnover ratio was the best in a season in program history.
Even with all that improvement, Bone still feels like he was overlooked by scouts and the media.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Bone replied when asked if he feels there’s a lot unknown about him still. “I feel like I had a really good season. I thank my coaches, my teammates, my supporting cast for pushing me and allowing me to perform, to have the year that I had. I understand that there are a lot of things people still don’t know about me as a player. I really wasn’t the primary guy. I ran the show, I was the point guard of the team, but there are things I’m working on every single day.
“When I have an opportunity like this, I can go out and show it.”
Bone showed out at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine, putting up some of the best numbers at the entire event. He finished with the best lane agility time and best shuttle time of all the participants there. He also had the best standing vertical leap at the combine, and he had the second-best max vertical leap.
Because of those impressive testing numbers and his breakout junior year, Bone is now starting to finally show up in NBA mock drafts and big boards heading into the 2019 NBA Draft.
It remains to be seen if Bone will be drafted or will have to go the free agency route to make his professional dreams come true, but one thing is for certain: He left Tennessee in much better shape than he found it.