Josiah-Jordan James’ freshman season on Rocky Top hasn’t necessarily gone according to plan.
The five-star freshman out of Charleston, South Carolina arrived with lofty expectations as one of the best high school prospects in the country in the 2019 recruiting cycle. But multiple injuries have made for a difficult rookie campaign. A hip injury caused him to miss nearly the entirety of preseason practice. James then re-aggravated the injury towards the end of January, which caused him to miss four games.
In the first four games since returning from injury, James was a shell of himself. He was averaging 3.3 points per game on 27.7 percent shooting from the field and 28.5 percent from the three-point line in those four games. To compound the struggles, James had 10 turnovers in those four games, which was the same amount of assists he recorded in that same span.
This past week, following a trip to Arkansas where James was 0-for-6 from the field with three fouls, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said that he wanted his freshman guard to be more aggressive on both ends of the floor. In Tennessee’s 63-58 win over Florida on Saturday afternoon, James did just that.
“We told him to be good at what he’s good at,” Barnes said. “And I thought he did that.
“More direction and us just saying, ‘This is what we want you to do, and this is what you got to do.’ We talked about playing inside-out, but when guys are open, we want them to shoot the ball. We’re not going to not shoot open shots even though we want to have a mindset of playing inside-out, and I thought he did that.
James was locked in from the jump against the Gators. In the first half, he led the Vols to a 32-17 halftime lead behind 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting from the field and 2-for-3 shooting from the three-point line. James added four rebounds, three assists, and a steal compared to just one personal foul and one turnover.
“I’d definitely say the first half was the best half I’ve played,” James said. “I wasn’t happy with the way I played the second half, so I’ve got to find a way to do it for 40 minutes.
“I was a little tired going into the second half. Fatigue had a little bit to do with it. Looking back, I probably should have gotten a sub for two or three minutes. I’ve just got to do a better job of handling pressure. Fatigue just played a big part.”
James finished the game with 12 points, the most since he scored 15 in the Vols’ SEC opener against LSU on Jan. 4. He also tallied eight rebounds, six assists, two blocks, and a steal.
Tennessee has two games remaining in the regular season. The Vols will travel to Lexington for a date with the SEC regular season champs and 13th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats on Tuesday night. They’ll then return home on Saturday for a date with Auburn on Senior Day before heading to Nashville for the SEC Tournament.
“We are a different team,” Barnes replied when asked how James’ play affected the game. “He gives us a fifth guy that is a threat out there, and he can shoot the ball. Percentage-wise, I think he is our best 3-point shooter. He can rebound it.
“Josiah, we’ve known all year that he’s struggled with injuries at some point and time. He just has to keep going on what he did today.”
The Vols are 6-3 on the season when James scores 10 or more points. Tennessee is just 8-8 when James puts up just nine or fewer points in a game.