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Tennessee Seeing a Familiar Face on Saturday Against NC State

DJ Burns Tennessee NC State
NC State forward D.J. Burns Jr. Photo via North Carolina State Athletics.

Tennessee will be squaring off against a familiar face during Saturday’s matchup against North Carolina State.

The Wolfpack’s middle of the court is defended (and attacked) by 6-foot-9, 275-pound forward D.J. Burns Jr. Burns has been one of the Wolfpack’s stronger players this season, averaging the second-most points on the team, the second-most rebounds on the team, and the second most assists on the team through nine games.

DJ Burns originally began his career at Tennessee. The Rock Hill, South Carolina native did not play during the 2018-2019 season and took a redshirt that season. Burns would then transfer to Winthrop after just one season in Knoxville.

Burns spent his next three seasons in Winthrop and averaged just over 12 points and four rebounds during that three-season stretch. Burns then transferred to North Carolina State and has been there since the 2022-2023 season.

“I think the biggest thing when we recruited D(.J.), and he has a wonderful family, and D.J. came in at a time when our big deal with him was to get him in great shape,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said on Friday. “But in terms of his game, I think what he’s doing is what we thought he would be able to do. And he’s, you think about, uh, once he left here, he did a good job at Winthrop and he’s now at NC State playing, I think the most minutes he’s ever played. I think he’s playing around 28 minutes a game, which is great. I think obviously that’s how much Coach Keats wants him on the court. But he’s worked hard to get himself to that position.”

Burns is averaging 13.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 28.7 minutes on the court through the Wolfpack’s first nine games of the season. The former Tennessee transfer has been one of their tougher offensive-minded players since arriving on campus prior to the 2022-2023 season.

“They’re a tough team,” Burns recently said about Tennessee via CBS Sports. “They get wins. I believe they’re ranked right now. We’re going to go at ’em.”

One reporter asked Burns what he thought of Tennessee’s play style with a little bit of “bully ball” in their repertoire.

“We bully bullies, too, you know? Burns said with a smile. “It’ll be fun to see who gets bullied more.”

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Tennessee has a pair of strong players in the paint with Jonas Aidoo and Tobe Awaka and should provide for a great battle down low. Aidoo, in particular, has really elevated his game this season. The junior forward for Tennessee is second on the team in scoring (12.1 PPG) and leads in rebounding (7.5 RPG).

The defensive battle between Aidoo/Awaka against Burns will certainly help impact the result of the contest.

“D.J. can score,” Barnes said of Burns. “We knew that when we recruited him. And a guy that, he’s got a really a soft touch around the basket. He can shoot the ball really out to 15 feet and obviously he’ll work hard to get his space where he wants it. And he’ll get it outside, around the 3-point line if he needs to, he’ll kind of crab dribble back down there to get to his position. I think he really understands where he’s effective on the court and he tries hard to get there.”

Burns’ one year in Knoxville was spent with Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, John Fulkerson, and Yves Pons. Current Tennessee Vols Josiah-Jordan James and Santiago Vescovi would begin their freshman seasons the following year and did not cross paths with Burns in Knoxville.

No. 12 Tennessee will take on NC State at 10:00 p.m. ET in San Antonio on Saturday night in the Hall of Fame Series.

DJ Burns NC State Tennessee
Tennessee Basketball 2018-2019. Photo via Tennessee Athletics.

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