The highly rated point guard in the class of 2022 is a Mr. Basketball winner and past state champion
By Dan McWilliams
BJ Edwards is staying home. The Knoxville Catholic High School standout point guard announced via social media July 1 that he is committing to the University of Tennessee basketball team.
BJ, a 6-foot-3 four-star prospect in the class of 2022, picked the Vols over Florida, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest.
“It’s been a long process, a lot of college coaches recruiting me. In the end, you can only choose one college, and I feel like Tennessee was the best for me,” he said. “When I put it out, my phone was buzzing, a lot of calls. All my friends texting me, coaches texting me, family. It felt really good. My phone’s still buzzing right now. It’s been a good process.”
The KCHS junior won the Mr. Basketball Award for Division II, Class AA, in the 2020-21 season and led the Fighting Irish to a state-semifinal appearance. In his sophomore campaign, BJ helped the Irish win their first-ever state championship. In that state final, BJ faced Kennedy Chandler of Briarcrest, a top point guard who has also committed to Tennessee, in the class of 2021.
As a junior, BJ averaged 19.9 points per game with a .522 field-goal percentage. He shot 74 percent from the free-throw line and recorded 7.04 rebounds, 5.08 assists, and 2.4 steals per game. He has scored more than 1,600 career points.
The fact that Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes showed BJ film of himself during his recruiting visit helped sway him to pick the Vols.
“On my visit, I was with coach Rick Barnes. We ate out a lot, and the whole staff came out. I really enjoyed it. It felt like a family the whole time, and that’s what I look most to in going to college,” BJ said. “Me and him sat down and watched film for a whole hour. It was on like the past point guards at Tennessee. Then we watched film on me as well, which kind of got me. It was really exciting for them to have film on me and to show how I fit into the offense.”
BJ learned something from the Vol head coach from that film session.
“What I learned the most was, he asked me what position do I think is the hardest. He said point guard, because the point guard is like the quarterback on the team. Whether you win or lose, it’s always the point guard’s fault, he said. That’s what I play. I’m a true point guard. He has developed point guards for the NBA, so I feel like that’s where I need to be at, under his wing.”
The film session decided matters for BJ.
“After the film, I felt like [committing to UT]. All the other colleges just showed their guys, but when [UT] put me up on the screen, it really just touched my heart,” he said.
Vol Nation on social media welcomed BJ aboard after his announcement.
“It means a lot. I just want to go out there and have fun and get a lot of wins and just don’t disappoint them and do everything I can and give it my all,” he said.
BJ said he is “most definitely” looking forward to playing with Kennedy Chandler.
“He’s on most of the [NBA] draft boards, so even if he goes [to the NBA] I can come in and fill his position. Even if he stays . . . he’s the No. 1 point guard in the 2021 class, so it’s a win-win in practice: I’m playing against the No. 1 point guard. It’s not anything bad. It’s only going to make me better.”
BJ said he has heard from a few former Vol players about his decision.
“I hang out with Jordan Bowden, work out with him a lot,” he said. “He’s in the [NBA’s] G League now. He’s showing me how it is to work out as a pro. He’s always told me about Coach Rick Barnes, many stories, how Coach Barnes pushes his players to be the best they can be.”
College basketball was not always on the horizon for BJ.
“Five or six years ago, I wasn’t certain if I was going to play college basketball or not, but when I got my first Division I offer in eighth grade, that’s when it really hit me that this is what I want to do,” he said. “This day means the world to me. I’ve been waiting for it forever. Go Vols—I want to come in and win as many games as possible, win an SEC championship, and go far in the [NCAA] tournament, and just get as many wins as possible and make [fans] proud.”
KCHS assistant coach Tony Scott attended BJ’s meeting with the press July 1. BJ’s commitment to Tennessee “means a lot to our program,” Mr. Scott said.
“I think it brings awareness for basketball to the Knoxville area to have a prospect like BJ here,” he said. “For years, the light has shined on Memphis; the rest of the state has kind of turned a head toward us because no one respected the sport as far as basketball. I’ve coached in East Tennessee for over 26 years, but I think having a prospect like BJ here has given attention to our kids. We’ve got kids like Blue Cain getting offers from schools, Yesan Warren getting offers, Deondrea Lindsey, a freshman coming in, getting offers.
“I think it’s making them raise their level of competition because they’ve got a player like BJ. He’s such a leader. He makes everybody better. He demands that everybody give their best and work as hard as he does, so we’re excited. We’re proud, and we’re happy for him.”
Brett Patterson, BJ’s AAU coach, also attended the press conference.
“When BJ came to us, he could do some things really well. He played defense great. He ran great. He ran the floor. He finished really well, but there were a couple of things he didn’t do well,” he said. “He didn’t shoot very well, and he wasn’t very big. But the one thing he is, he is probably the most competitive person I’ve ever coached.
“He just gets after it. He dedicated himself to improving his shot, and now he’s our second-best 3-point shooter. He’s unbelievable. He put himself in the weight room. He put himself in the gym, and he has worked out, and now he’s probably the strongest guard that you’ll see play. When he defends somebody, he can defend in the post. He’s really long. He’s our second-leading rebounder. He took his weaknesses and made them strengths.”
Mr. Patterson said BJ watching film with coach Barnes was “huge, because you take a legend like Barnes, somebody who’s been in the game for 40 years, to actually talk to BJ about what’s going to make BJ better and what’s going to help him, because, like I said, even with those things I just mentioned, he will take that to heart, and he will do the things that Barnes tells him to do in order to get better. He won’t see those as, ‘Oh, he doesn’t like my game. He doesn’t want to do this.’ He’ll see it as an opportunity to improve.”
BJ will be a good fit at Tennessee, Mr. Patterson said.
“Coach Barnes is a defense-first coach, and BJ is a defense-first player,” he said. “He really gets after it on the defensive end. He loves to run the floor. He is extremely coachable, and he will do whatever is asked of him.”
Mr. Patterson has some advice for coach Barnes about BJ.
“You’re going to have to get him to talk a little more,” he said. “[Coach Barnes] likes them to talk on defense. BJ is not really outspoken, so that would probably be the top thing.”
KCHS lost in the state semifinals last season, and that is motivation for his senior season this fall, BJ said.
“Last year we lost in the state championship. It kind of hurt us a lot. We’ve still got that feeling in our chests,” he said. “I really want to win a state championship this year for my senior season and all my teammates and coaches. Definitely going to get that done, and just me getting better myself and also making my teammates better as well.”
BJ is only the second KCHS player to receive a basketball scholarship to Tennessee. Skip Plotnicki, who had been a leading scorer for Knoxville Catholic, played varsity basketball for UT from 1962 to 1965.