Josiah-Jordan James says he's 'ready to go' ahead of Tennessee's first game

IMG_3593by:Grant Ramey11/07/22

GrantRamey

Rick Barnes didn’t fully commit to Josiah-Jordan James being back for No. 11 Tennessee in tonight’s season-opener against Tennessee Tech.

“We think so,” Barnes said of James before practice on Thursday at Pratt Pavilion, “ … (It’s) likely that he’ll play. Now we’ll just have to keep building him back up to get him ready.”

If you ask James, who went through what appeared to be a full practice on Thursday alongside his teammates, he’s officially back. And he’s more than ready to be back on the court.

“I can’t wait,” James said during an appearance of Vol Club Confidential. “Ever since I got my surgery right after the season ended, really, I couldn’t wait to come back. I went through practices a little bit throughout the summer. Got another procedure done and I’m ready to get back.”

Tennessee, No. 11 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25, is scheduled to tipoff against Tennessee Tech at 7 p.m. Eastern Time Monday at Thompson-Boling Arena. The game is not televised, but is available as an SEC Network+ online live stream through the ESPN app or WatchESPN.com.

James sat out most of the preseason, settling for workouts on the side during practices, getting worked out by head strength coach Garrett Medenwald.

But that’s in the past, according to James.

“I’ve been healthy for about a week now,” he said. “I didn’t play in the two scrimmage and exhibition games that we had against Michigan State and Gonzaga, just because they wanted to be as cautionary as possible. But I’m ready to go and I know the rest of the guys are, too.”

No. 11 Tennessee in ‘a great place’ to start new season

Tennessee beat Gonzaga 99-80 in a neutral-site exhibition game on October 28. The Vols hosted Michigan State in a closed scrimmage on October 23. After facing Tennessee Tech on Monday, Tennessee plays Colorado at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Sunday, a 2 p.m. Eastern Time start on ESPN.

“I think we’re in a great place,” senior forward Olivier Nkamhoua said Thursday. “And when Josiah comes back, he’s going to ready to go with us.”

After a slow start to his junior year, James scored in double-figures in 13 of the final 16 games last season. He led Tennessee in rebounding, at 6.0 per game, was third in scoring, at 10.3, and had 55 assists, 46 steals and 34 blocks. He played in 32 of 34 games, making 30 starts, while averaging 29.1 minutes per game, third most on the team.

James started 17 times in 25 games during his sophomore season, averaging 8.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, missing time with a finger injury. As a freshman in 2019-20, he started 26 times in 27 games, averaging 7.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, missing time with a hip issue.

He was the first five-star prospect to sign with Tennessee during the Barnes era, committing to the Vols in September 2018.

Since then, Barnes has signed four more five-stars recruits and, on top of that, four McDonalds All-Americans over the last four years — James in 2019, Jaden Springer in 2020, Kennedy Chandler in 2021 and Julian Phillips earlier this year.

‘Tough love’ from Rick Barnes helped Josiah-Jordan James grow

There was no five-star treatment when James got to campus, though. During his appearance on Vol Club Confidential, he looked back at just how hard of an adjustment it was when he arrived at Tennessee.

“My first month of practice,” James said, “with Lamonte (Turner) and his experience, then Coach being all over me, there were days where I was like, ‘I cannot wait until I’m done and out of this place, because Coach Barnes is a psychopath. He’s just a crazy old man, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’ 

“But those days, they helped me to get to where I’m at today. It’s always tough love with him. That’s his philosophy and the way he coaches.” 

James stuck it out. According to his own words, he had to grow up. The rosy recruitment process —  “everyone was always telling me how good I was,” he said, “how talented I was, how easy it was going to be” — was over. This was his new reality.

“When I came in, I thought for sure I would only be here for a couple months, because I thought I was prepared to take my game to the next level,” James said. “It took me a week to know that it wasn’t going to be that way. 

“I would definitely say there were times where I had so much hate towards (Barnes),” James continued. “But our relationship grew.” 

The growth process started when James realized Barnes had a soft side to him off the court that matched the hard edge and seemingly impossible standards that never go away between the lines.

“He can go from being in a three and a half hour practice where you feel as a player you can’t do anything right — he’s on you, you’re running, you’re on the VersaClimber, he’s yelling at you — but right after practice he’s not that same dude,” James said. “He’s the Rick Barnes the comedian, the charismatic guy, the guy that loves pulling pranks. 

“Say you have a bad day at practice, he doesn’t hold that against you after practice or when you see him outside of the gym. He treats you like a regular human being. He wants to get to know you, wants to know how you’re doing.” 

Now, four years later, the relationship between James and Barnes couldn’t be better. It’s as good as it’s ever been, according to James.

“Just because I feel like I know so much about him and he knows so much about me,” he said. “I know where he’s coming from. In everything that he does, his coaching, it comes from a place of love … the life lessons he’s taught me on the court, off the court, will stick with me forever. Somebody that I hold near and dear to my heart for sure.”

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