Rick Barnes wasted no time when he got the Tennessee basketball job. A mere hours on the job, he offered what he believed would be one of the best players in the country. That player was a thirteen year old kid by the name of Josiah James. Fast-forward four years and Barnes’ crystal ball came up ORANGE with today’s news that the five star combo guard committed to play for the Vols.
BARNES GETS HIS MAN
After a lengthy coaching tenure at the University of Texas that saw him coach highly touted recruits and eventual NBA players TJ Ford, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Kevin Durant, the one persistent question since Barnes’ arrival in Knoxville was whether he could still sign the country’s best players. For the first three seasons at Tennessee that answer appeared to be a resounding no. Barnes failed to land a single player ranked in the top-100. Even in the absence of any notable recruiting wins, Barnes and his players forgot that they weren’t supposed to be any good. The Vols finished the 2017 season as co-SEC regular season champs with Auburn after pundits picked them to finish 13th in the preseason poll. The successful campaign saw Barnes take home conference Coach of the Year honors. Under the radar players like Grant Williams (3 Star) and Admiral Schofield (3 Star) blossomed into all-SEC players. For James, this player development didn’t go unnoticed. “I swear Tennessee has the best player development in the country.”
That’s not to say winning the Josiah James sweepstakes was by any means an easy feat. Barnes beat out the likes of Tom Izzo, Sean Miller, and Mike Krzyzewski for the talented 6’6 player. In the end, James thought back to his very first offer — an offer delivered over the phone during his eighth grade year. “They saw something in me from Day 1 and that really meant a lot to me.”
The talented left-hander is known as a supremely hard worker. A recent piece from the Moultrie News chronicled James obsession to improve upon his craft. James reportedly works out upwards of four times a day with three different personal trainers. Says trainer Davon Gilliard, “He might be the most dedicated kid I’ve worked with.” With Rick Barnes reputation as a hard-nosed coach who has a penchant for player improvement, the James/Vols pairing looks to be a match made in heaven.
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He comes from a family with a strong basketball pedigree. His father Kurt suited up for Michigan State back in the ‘80s and his mom, Sonya, continues to referee college basketball games. Over the course of his high school career, James has worked hard to fill out his 6’6 frame and successfully done so at a now chiseled 198. Although most talent evaluators consider him a pass-first point guard, James has serious diversity to his game. He’s a high-level defender with deceptively quick hands and a freakishly long wingspan (6’9). As one of the twelve American high schoolers chosen to play for the USA U18 National team in the 2018 FIBA Americas, James averaged 5.3 points to go with six rebounds in only 16 minutes of action per game. Even with minutes at a premium, James still found ways to stand out, such as the alley-oop he threw down in the FIBA Americas championship game. The play was enough to garner him second place on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the day.
— FIBA (@FIBA) June 17, 2018
James will have to work to improve his outside shot. The lefty has a bit of an awkward over-the-head release. As James even noted during his recent recruiting trip to Tennessee, Barnes tutored him on his shooting form even when fatigued. This left a big mark on James. “What other coach will sit in the gym with me for an hour and point out my weaknesses instead of just talking me up.”
Although he’s got an overall well-rounded game for a senior-to-be, James’ greatest trait is not a physical skill but his ability to make those around him better. He’s led Porter-Gaud School to three consecutive state championships and took his AAU team (TMP) to the championship game of the AAU Super Showcase national tournament this past summer.
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT
The James commitment pushes the Vols into the top 10 of the 247Sports team rankings for the class of 2019. Barnes continues to stockpile versatile athletes who can play multiple positions such as 2019 commitments PF Drew Pember (6’9, 190) and SF Davonte Gaines (6’7, 175). The success on and off the hardwood resulted in the recent three year extension for Barnes. While the class of three won’t arrive for another year, the 2018 BallerVols are picked by many to start the season as a pre-season top five team. Should Barnes continue to leapfrog programs like Kentucky in the conference and national standings, Josiah James could be the start of more high-profile players to come for the Tennessee Volunteers.