Josiah-Jordan James has always possessed an all-around basketball game, which has resulted in three seasons of starting for the Tennessee Volunteers.
Now the shots are starting to fall.
The 6-foot-6, 214-pound junior guard/forward scored a career-high 20 points during Saturday's 81-57 dismantling of South Carolina in Columbia. James also amassed six rebounds, three steals, three blocked shots and two assists for the No. 22 Vols, who improved to 16-6 overall and 7-3 in Southeastern Conference play.
"He's a basketball player, and he's going to do whatever he has to do to help his team win," coach Rick Barnes said after Tennessee's fifth consecutive league victory. "Josiah has always been very unselfish, sometimes to a fault. He's a connector both on and off the court. Early in the year he struggled, but he spent so much time working on his shot, and I think the better ball movement and playing at a quicker pace has helped him.
"You have to have a guy like that today in college basketball. He can rebound with the bigger players. He's got versatility, and he's developed a terrific basketball IQ. He knows our scouting report and what's going on out there."
James is averaging 8.1 points and 5.7 rebounds this season to go along with his 32 steals, 26 assists and 21 blocks. Yet in Tennessee's past three games against Texas, Texas A&M and South Carolina, he has averaged 15.0 points while shooting 15-of-31 from the floor (48.4%), 8-of-18 from 3-point range (44.4%) and 7-of-7 from the free-throw line.
Sure, there was his missed 3-pointer as time expired in the 52-51 loss to the Longhorns in Austin, but James has been a chief component to Tennessee's 85.5-point average in the past two contests, and he admits he's never played better.
"Yeah — the last two games for sure," James said. "I give credit to God first and then also my teammates. Early in the year I was in a slump and my shots weren't falling, and I was kind of getting down on myself. My teammates and my coaches told me there was going to be a point in this season when everything would turn around, and I trusted in God and trusted in my work.
"These last couple of games have been really good for me and for us as a team."
The former five-star recruit from Charleston, South Carolina, was among the nation's most disappointing players at the beginning of this season, starting an abysmal 3-of-25 from 3-point range (12%). Those multiple misses resulted in him becoming hesitant when that next open look came around, a predicament that plagued some of his teammates as well.
Though a lot went wrong in the 107-79 humbling defeat at Kentucky on Jan. 15, James did go 3-of-6 from 3-point range, and he has appeared more confident since.
"A lot of people early in the year questioned him, and I told him that he was rushing it," Barnes said. "He got off to a tough start, and I just told him to play with the flow and to shoot the shot that you practice. We scrimmaged against Davidson, and Jo had five 3s in that scrimmage. It's just rhythm, and he was pressing. He is playing with a different level of speed right now and concentration. When he shoots it, we all think it's going in."
Said James: "I think I've been a little bit more aggressive, especially to start the game the last couple of games."
James was the first five-star signee of the Barnes era, and the two who immediately followed — Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer — spent one season with the Vols before becoming NBA first-round draft picks. There has been no such fast track for James, the nation's No. 14 signee in the 2019 class according to Rivals.com and 247Sports.com, but he has been nothing short of wonderful in the eyes of his coach.
"He has been a great Tennessee Volunteer and is everything we want this program to be," Barnes said. "When Grant (Williams) was leaving and when Jordan Bone and Lamonte (Turner) left, we felt like Jo would be the guy who would carry on what we wanted our program to be about, and he's done it with a lot of new guys having to come in.
"Jo has been a real stabilizer for a lot with our program and not just what we see out here today."