During Monday’s blowout win against Tennessee Tech, only one scholarship player didn’t receive any minutes. Four-star freshman DJ Jefferson, a later addition to Tennessee’s 2022 class, was stuck on the bench.
Rick Barnes explained why shortly after the game.
“We are going to redshirt him,” Barnes said after the game when asked. “We’re really excited that he’s here with us. He’s got a load of talent and he missed some early season practice which set him back. It’s happened every year. When a freshman misses that early season practice, and I think he was out for a couple weeks with an ankle, and it really set him back especially with the older group of guys.”
Jefferson ended up at Tennessee after initially signing with Tulsa. A coaching change allowed him get out of that signature, and a big spring period let him improve his stock as a prospect. Jefferson ended up rising into the top 100, landing at 83rd overall in the class, per 247Sports.
Coming out of the state of Minnesota, Jefferson was the 21st ranked small forward in the class. It was always going to be an uphill climb for Jefferson to find minutes early with so much production returning for Tennessee. However, the path to playing time is obvious once Josiah-Jordan James, Santiago Vescovi and (likely) Julian Phillips exit the picture.
“You never redshirt a guy unless you know he’s going to be a factor in your program,” Barnes continued. “There’s no doubt he has a chance to be a real factor. I think it’s going to affect him tremendously because everyone we’ve ever done that with it has paid off if they do their part and there’s no question in my mind that I think he will. Certainly we hope he will. We’re excited that he’s here. Just from what he missed early we felt like it was going to be really hard for him to catch up.”
Barnes and his staff have a really good track record of developing guys that stick around inside of the program. In today’s day and age, it’s easy to bolt for the quicker path, but guys like Yves Pons, Jordan Bone, John Fulkerson and Olivier Nkamhoua are great examples of what can happen when you stick around.
Perhaps Jefferson will be that next success story, starting next season.