It’s a new team, new season for Tennessee basketball’s Josiah Jordan James. The dynamic guard is entering his third season with the Vols.
A five-star recruit out of Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina, James was held in high regard the moment he stepped on campus. His facilitating playstyle thrived under head coach Rick Barnes in his sophomore season after he struggled to adapt to the pace of high-major college basketball his freshman campaign.
James has always been a “team first” type of player. He went from being isolated from teammates in a COVID-19 landscape to welcoming the eight new additions to the Tennessee squad in year three. That comradery, both James and Barnes say, is crucial to a team’s success at Tennessee.
“It’s been really, really good,” James said. “I feel like last year with COVID-19, it was really hard to get the comradery that we wanted throughout the season, but this year with the restrictions loosening up a little, it has been there since day one. I’d definitely say this is the closest team that I’ve been on since I’ve been here. We really just like each other, we have a genuine care for each other and the game.”
Tennessee basketball was ranked the No. 18 team in the nation in the AP’s preseason top-25 poll Monday.
James is joined by Fulkerson, Olivier Nkamhoua and Victor Bailey Jr. as fellow leaders of Tennessee’s diverse group of basketball players. James, Fulkerson and Nkamhoua were all especially vocal in Tennessee’s Thursday practice, which was open to media.
Getting those veterans and newcomers such as Auburn transfer Justin Powell, five-star point guard freshman Kennedy Chandler and five-star power forward Brandon Huntley-Hatfield to mix and form a dangerous basketball team that can compete in March starts early. James knows this and is up for the challenge of getting that process rolling.
“We still have a long way to go as a team, they definitely hit the ground running,” James said. “They’re still learning the system, but we all are. They definitely learned a lot quicker than I did.”
James is one of the most important contributing players on the court, adding 6.8 rebounds per game and 8 points per game in 2020. James played nearly every position on the court at one point in 2020, also adding a 77% free throw percentage and 31% 3-point make percentage.
His skillset thrived on hustle plays away from the stat sheet, making him a very underrated player on a national scale. It safe to say James is good for at least two eye-raising plays per game.
“I’ve always said, he is without question the most versatile guy that we have — he can play one through five,” Barnes said. “He knows the system that well, and he’s pretty much done that since he’s been here.”
Minutes will always come for James, but that has never been important to him. Be on the lookout for a leader to emerge from No. 30 in orange and white this year at Thompson-Boling Arena.