This Tennessee basketball freshman is surprising Rick Barnes the most

B.J. Edwards was handed a challenge this summer.

The Tennessee basketball freshman handled it in stride and them some in Rick Barnes’ estimation.

“If you really pressed me really hard and asked me who I was most surprised with, it would probably be B.J.,” Barnes said Wednesday before Tennessee’s second preseason practice at Pratt Pavilion.

Edwards earned Barnes’ praise for how he handled going against Zakai Zeigler throughout the offseason. Edwards was issued the task because Santiago Vescovi was gone for most of the offseason playing for the Uruguayan national team.

“Watching B.J. handle that every day was really neat,” Barnes said. “Again, somewhat surprising, to be quite frank.”

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Edwards was the first player to commit to Tennessee’s 2022 recruiting class. He eventually was joined by five-star forward Julian Phillips, guard D.J. Jefferson and forward Tobe Awaka. Edwards was a four-star and the No. 108 prospect in the 247Sports Composite.

He is in the mix at point guard for the Vols along with Vescovi, Zeigler and Indiana State transfer Tyreke Key. Barnes has mentioned Phillips and Josiah-Jordan James as players who can bring the ball up the court.

Edwards is expected to contribute at both guard positions, but he spent the summer playing strictly point guard. He excelled in dealing with Zeigler, who makes life brutal on defenders with his quickness and elusiveness.

“As tough as it was, that was great for him,” Barnes said.

Barnes said he also wants to see Edwards work off the ball because of his rebounding ability and Barnes’ desire to have his team run more. Defensively, the eighth-year Vols coach feels good about Edwards’ play. He stated that Edwards has done well adjusting to guarding the ball but can still improve off the ball.

Edwards averaged 19.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.5 steals in four seasons at Knoxville Catholic. He shot 52% and 33% on 3-pointers.

“He’s really worked hard at trying to get consistent with his shot,” Barnes said. “He’s deceptive. But the one thing we do know is that he’s very competitive and he’s willing to buy into whatever role that we know we need to put him in right now.”

That role this summer was dealing with Zeigler on a daily basis. He impressed then has continued to do with good instincts and a desire to learn from Tennessee’s veteran backcourt of James and Vescovi.

“He has grown tremendously,” Barnes said. “He’s a player that we have a lot of confidence in him.”

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at michael.wilson@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: B.J. Edwards impresses Rick Barnes as Tennessee basketball starts play