Barnes: Josiah-Jordan James has “Transformed His Body”

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    Photo by Caitlyn Jordan/RTI

    When Josiah-Jordan James signed on with Tennessee as part of the Vols’ 2019 signing class, fans immediately had high expectations for him. Why? Because James was rated as a consensus five-star recruit, and he was the first five-star signed under Rick Barnes at UT.

    Unfortunately for James, his freshman campaign at Tennessee didn’t go as planned.

    James dealt with a nagging injury during the offseason that caused him to miss basically all of UT’s preseason practices, and that issue never really resolved itself throughout the season. Just when James was starting to play better and look like he was reaching his potential, he re-aggravated that hip/groin injury and missed a couple weeks to start the month of February.

    All that resulted in a freshman season that didn’t quite live up to expectations for James.

    As a freshman, James averaged 7.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.9 assists while shooting 36.7 percent from three. James started 26 of the 27 games he played, and his defense was superb — though that doesn’t show up in the box score as much.

    Those injury issues held James back from making a bigger impact. But according to Rick Barnes, James has taken steps to try and fix that this offseason.

    According to long-time Knoxville reporter Jimmy Hyams, Barnes said that James has “transformed his body” this offseason after taking yoga to improve his flexibility. Barnes went on to say that the yoga sessions have been “life-changing” for James.

    James’ hip/groin injury resurfaced during the Vols’ match-up with Kansas on the road on January 25th. In that game, James failed to score on six field goal attempts, adding seven rebounds and four assists but also turning the ball over six times.

    In the 11 games prior to that, James had started to find his stride, averaging 10.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.2 assists while shooting 39.1 percent from three. James had scored in double figures in eight of those 11 games after failing to reach that mark in UT’s first seven games of the season.

    After re-aggravating that injury, James played in Tennessee’s loss to Texas A&M at home, logging 23 minutes and totaling seven points, three rebounds, two assists, and two steals. But after that game, James was forced to sit out for four games before returning to action. And once he did, he had some rust to knock off.

    In James’ first four games after returning from injury, he averaged just 3.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.5 blocks while making just 28.6 percent of his threes. But once he was able to finally get back in the groove, he looked closer to that five-star status fans were hoping to see. In Tennessee’s final three regular season games, James averaged 10.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.3 steals, and a block while making 41.7 percent of his three-pointers.

    This offseason, Tennessee is welcoming in arguably their most talented group of newcomers in modern UT history. The Vols signed two five-star guards in Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson along with four-star forward Corey Walker, and UT also brought in grad transfer forward EJ Anosike from Sacred Heart. All four of those players will challenge for starting roles and playing time, meaning all of Tennessee’s returning players will need to up their game to keep their spots from last season.

    That includes James.

    James played a number of roles for the Vols last season, but he mostly was used as either a point guard or off-ball guard/forward on offense. Tennessee returns freshman sensation Santiago Vescovi at point guard, and both Springer and Johnson have the size and skill to play at the one, two, or three. Not only that, but Oregon transfer guard Victor Bailey Jr. will be eligible this upcoming season, and he’ll be looking to make a big impact as well.

    Even if James had a strong freshman year, he wouldn’t be guaranteed anything heading into this second season as a Vol. With Tennessee bringing in all this talent that will fight for minutes this upcoming season, James will need to show improvement to keep his starting spot and hold off the talented youngsters.

    The 2019-20 season was an up-and-down campaign for Josiah-Jordan James, as it was for essentially the entire Tennessee team. But if Barnes’ words are true, then James might be in store for a much better and more consistent sophomore season in 2020-21.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.