KNOXVILLE — Josiah-Jordan James has always had the mentality to do whatever it takes to help his basketball team be successful.
He was a piece of the Porter-Gaud School puzzle for three seasons, helping the team win three consecutive South Carolina Independent School Association state titles and averaging 10.6 points and 6.6 assists per game as a junior. But after that season, the team lost eight seniors — including current Vanderbilt sophomore Aaron Nesmith — and the Cyclones needed James to do more on offense.
He responded by averaging 29.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 5.3 blocks and 4.9 assists per game on his way to South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year honors.
Now the 6-foot-6, 208-pound guard projects to fit into a Tennessee puzzle that will need him to make an early impact.
Matter of fact, the coaching staff expects him to.
"We'll use him in any and every way that we have to because he's the kind of player that is very versatile," Volunteers coach Rick Barnes said. "I think he's kind of an unselfish person that's willing to do whatever you ask him to do, whatever his teammates need him to do, but I think we'll use him every way that you can possibly think about using a guy, because he's that versatile that playing the point, playing off the ball, doing whatever, he's always going to try to make winning plays.
"He loves to pass the ball, maybe to a fault right now — that's something that we're trying to get him to understand. He needs to look for his shot a little bit more than he already has done, but his instincts have always been 'What can I do to run the team and get my teammates in places where they can score and get better?', which is a great trait to have for anybody that's a lead guard. But we do think that he has to get a little bit more of a scoring mentality."
James knew he needed to work on his shooting and committed to taking 300 shots a day on top of the Vols' regular workouts. He said that has paid off, but he also admitted the late-summer lull of continual workouts and drills was a challenge. The Vols are back in that pattern as they push toward their Oct. 30 exhibition opener against Eastern New Mexico.
"It was a lot of monotonous stuff. The same stuff every day, but you can't go in with that mindset," James said. "The coaches let us know beforehand you're going to get tired of doing the same stuff every day, but you have to go in every day trying to get better.
"We do a lot of work each and every day, but to be able to play against other people and compete — playing against somebody that doesn't have Tennessee on their chest — to be able to band together as brothers and kind of go to war against somebody else, it means a lot. That's why you play the game of basketball. Even though we compete in here, it's definitely good and refreshing to play against somebody else."