Tennessee Star Forward Testing NBA Waters

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    Tennessee small forward Josiah-Jordan James is following the lead of Kennedy Chandler and Santiago Vescovi by declaring for the NBA Draft.

    James never made a formal announcement that he would test NBA waters, but with the deadline to enter the draft in the rearview, the South Carolina native is one of the 283 players currently in the NBA Draft pool.

    Despite declaring for the NBA Draft, James is still eligible to return for his senior season in Knoxville. The NCAA allows college prospects to declare for the draft and as long as they don’t hire an agent — or hire an NCAA approved agent — allowing them to withdraw from the draft by June 1 and to retain their eligibility.

    The June 1 withdrawal date comes 10 days after the NBA Combine allowing top prospects to get a complete analysis from NBA scouts.

    While James never formally announced his plans to go through the draft process, it comes as no surprise. Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said that was James’ plan in his end of year press conference.

    “Yes, I think it is good for him, I do,” Barnes said. “He will do that. Jo is a very methodical and well-thought-out person. He will do it based on how he feels and when he decides when he is going to announce, whether he is going to do it or not.”

    A number of Vols have followed this path including Admiral Schofield (2018) and Yves Pons (2020) who returned to school after declaring for the draft.

    While Kennedy Chandler will likely stay in the NBA Draft both Vescovi and James could very well return for their senior seasons in Knoxville.

    James has been a major piece of the Tennessee program since enrolling in school in the fall of 2019. The first five-star signee of the Rick Barnes era, James had a breakout junior season.

    The 6-foot-6 wing averaged 10.3 points and six rebounds per game and after struggling offensively the first two months of the season, James became one of the Vols’ better offensive players.

    After scoring in double figures just twice in November and December, James averaged 13.8 points per game and scored in double-digits 12 times in the final 15 games of the season. The Charleston native got red-hot from three-point range, shooting 41% from deep in the stretch while improving his offense in the mid range.

    James’ offensive growth complimented his elite defense. Despite not earning All-SEC Defensive Honors, James was the best and most important defender on Tennessee’s roster — averaging 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.

    The versatile forward is capable of defending the one through four spots extremely effectively. That allowed Barnes to play him at power forward and unleash a small ball lineup that reeked havoc on defenses.

    “Often, coaches look at the numbers,” Barnes said at the conclusion of the regular season. “I get that part of it too, but the best defensive guy on our team is Josiah because of the fact that he guards every position on the floor. I think the league will have to change that because I’m sure it’s hard to pick five guys in this league when it’s good as it is. We know there are more than five good defenders in the league, but if we’re going to pick eight first-team players, we should be doing the same on the All-Defensive team.”

    Bringing James back for his senior season is a major storyline to watch for Tennessee this offseason. The forward was perhaps the most important player on the Vols’ roster last winter and will be again next season if he decides to withdraw from the draft.

    Ryan Schumpert is a senior at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since the moment he stepped on campus. He just completed a three-year stint with the Daily Beacon, the last two of which as the Sports Editor. Ryan also spent last three years at Volquest providing strong Tennessee baseball coverage of Tony Vitello's resurgent program. While the bulk of Ryan's responsibilities involved beat coverage and writing, he also recorded podcasts for both the Beacon and Volquest. Did we leave out the part about Ryan interning for the Smokies? Ryan's work ethic, versatility, and strong writing skills are but three of the reasons why Vol Nation will be hearing from Ryan for years to come.