D.J. Burns at 17 already getting used to life as a Vol

Tennessee freshman power forward D.J. Burns talks to reporters on Thursday, June 14, 2018, inside the team's practice facility.

KNOXVILLE - Admiral Schofield gave no hesitation, even as the wide-eyed new teammate he was discussing walked to within earshot of the conversation.

Is Schofield beating up on D.J. Burns like he beat up on Grant Williams when Williams was a freshman?

"Of course," Schofield said before the question was finished. "He's a freshman, too, so you've got to get him acclimated."

Burns is not just any freshman. He's a 17-year-old who completed high school at York Preparatory Academy in Rock Hill, South Carolina, a year ahead of schedule.

Burns already has been put to work helping with Tennessee's youth camps this week, his second on campus. He's also been doing plenty of learning.

There are often visions of immediate grandeur with highly recruited college basketball players, especially those with the talent, brains and confidence to graduate from high school early and move on to the next level. Burns, though, presented himself as a player focused on learning and doing whatever it takes to help the team, even if that does not entail playing a key role right away.

"That wasn't really my focus," Burns said Thursday through a set of braces that are a reminder of his youth. "My focus is coming in and getting a lot stronger, getting a lot faster and getting better. However I can help the team, whether it be playing, cheering them on, whatever I need to do is what I'll do."

First up is a heavy dose of conditioning. The next couple of months, coach Rick Barnes said, will be important for Burns, who turns 18 in October.

"That is going to be the first and foremost thing," Barnes said. "He is going to have to get himself in the kind of shape it takes to play at this level – both physically and mentally. It's a rude awakening for him."

Burns is the first player in the program born this millennium, but there is a precedent for 17-year-old power forwards succeeding at Tennessee under Barnes. Williams did not turn 18 until after the fifth game of his freshman season in 2016. He earned SEC all-freshman team honors and this past season was voted SEC player of the year as a sophomore.

Williams was Burns' host when Burns visited the Tennessee campus. Comparisons between the two have limitations. Tennessee's roster is much deeper roster now than when Williams was a freshman, and that impacts how much Barnes will need from Burns in the upcoming season.

Burns is also taller than Williams and left-handed.

But both can relate to the painful privilege of being acclimated to life on the court at Tennessee with the help of the bruising Schofield, who removed his name from consideration for the upcoming NBA draft in order to play a final season for the Volunteers.

Schofield described Burns' game as "smooth."

"I think this year will be a learning year for him," Schofield said. "He's young, which is good, he's willing to learn, willing to work hard. But he has a lot of upside to him."

Burns also seems to be a cultural fit with the program Barnes has built in Knoxville.

When Burns was visiting Tennessee, he said he and Barnes prayed about Burns' college decision.

"That was something that really stood out," Burns said.

"I think what D.J. found here," Barnes said, "was a group of guys that, like him, are willing to work hard and put the time into it and see what happens in the end."

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidWCobb and on Facebook at facebook.com/volsupdate.