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Rick Barnes to Josiah-Jordan James: “Just shoot the ball.”

A simple solution for the freshman’s struggles.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Kansas Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Due to his five-star billing and overall success of the Tennessee basketball program in recent years, expectations were through the roof for incoming five-star guard Josiah-Jordan James. Gone were Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams and Jordan Bone, and James was arriving as a natural fit to be the next great in line.

But it hasn’t happened in his freshman season. A hip issue and a groin issue have plagued James dating back to camp last fall, but even when he’s been healthy, James hasn’t looked terribly comfortable offensively. We’ve seen the spurts, but nothing consistent to this point.

James averages seven points per game and nearly three assists, with his main contribution coming on the boards to this point. His six-foot-six wingspan has been big for Tennessee’s rebounding efforts, which have overall been lacking for much of the year.

But offensively, James has struggled. Those struggles were on display late against Auburn as Tennessee once again collapsed to find a way to lose.

“You can’t turn the ball over in that situation,” Barnes said of a late game turnover from James. “I mean, he turned down a shot. We’ve asked him all year not to over dribble the ball. You think about the times he’s got himself in trouble, or times he’s put himself in a bad situation, he’s just dribbling the ball for no reason at all.”

Against Auburn, James added just four points, seven rebounds and six turnovers. He hit both attempts from the field, but Barnes wants more aggression and confidence from his freshman guard.

“He continues to turn down shots and gets himself in trouble,” Barnes said on Monday. “Where he shouldn’t. Just shoot the ball. It’s pretty simple because he’s worked hard at it. We would’ve been fine if he missed that shot because, again, we were shocked that he was that open in the corner.”

In today’s world of freshman sensations and one-and-dones, it’s natural to feel disappointed with James in his freshman season. But in what has become a bit of a lost season, we can take comfort in Rick Barnes’ track record lately. Every player that sticks around and buys in to this coaching staff has really developed and improved. That fact has become a selling point for Barnes on the trail, citing Bone, Williams and Schofield.

Can James become the next in line to do that? Absolutely. It’s just going to take a little longer than we thought.

“It’s a matter of his mindset,” Barnes continued. “It’s been a tough year for him, but we’ve seen him grow in some areas and we’ve seen him take a step backwards. We know what he can be, but the biggest thing he has to do now is getting himself back to playing as hard as he possibly can and get lost in the game that way. Once he understands that consistently, he’ll figure it out.”