He’s a four-year starter who was once a five-star and is the most versatile player on the team. Somehow, though, Josiah-Jordan James will be a walk-on for Tennessee Basketball in 2023-24. That’s how deep Rick Barnes’ team is.
The 6-foot-6, 224-pound fifth-year senior wing is forgoing the NBA Draft, just as Santiago Vescovi did, and will return to the Vols for one more year, taking advantage of the NCAA’s COVID eligibility ruling from 2020. James made the announcement on Twitter.
James’ return comes despite the fact that Tennessee basketball has already filled its 13 scholarships. Despite losing Julian Phillips, Uros Plavsic, Tyreke Key, B.J. Edwards and Olivier Nkamhoua, Barnes and the Vols have three new recruits coming and have added three transfers.
With James, UT has its best defender and a guy who, if he is healthy and keeps improving his shot, can become a lethal force on both sides of the ball. He has averaged 10 points a game the past two years.
Not only do the Vols return their two most important players from last year, they also have a chance in philosophy that should work wonders. Barnes lost three post players and added three transfer guards.
All of this should make the Vols the most loaded team in the SEC with the right personnel as well. Both things are crucial in college basketball, and this is the first time since 2018-19 Barnes has it.
Remember, Zakai Zeigler is set to return from injury and run the point. Vescovi is back to play the two. Freddie Dilione, Jahmai Mashack and D.J. Jefferson can all play the three.
Incoming four-star Cameron Carr and transfers Dalton Knecht and Jordan Gainey can play in the rotation at the one or two spots. As a result, Barnes can nearly go three deep at every backcourt position.
At the four, James and Chris Ledlum, two wings who can play the post, are there, and then Jonas Aidoo is at the five with incoming four-star J.P. Estrella. Tobe Awaka and incoming three-star Cade Phillips also can play the post.
That makes for 14 guys who can all see legitimate action, meaning Barnes is just short of three-deep at every position. Combine that with his change in philosophy, and Tennessee Basketball is in great shape.
As for James specifically, he struggled with injuries last year. If he can stay healthy and get his three-point percentage up to .350 or better, he’s looking at All-American potential next year as a stretch four.
Combine James with Vescovi, and Tennessee Basketball has the right combination of depth, experience, talent and a small-ball philosophy crucial for deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. Barnes is the SEC’s offseason winner so far.