In short, McRae has everything he needs to be an SEC standout except heft and familiarity with Tennessee's defensive scheme. He has put on 18 pounds since last spring but needs to gain another 15. He also needs to learn to better utilize his quickness and length on the defensive end of the court.
"Jordan McRae is a young colt, extremely talented and gifted athletically," associate head coach Tony Jones said. "He can shoot the ball. He will remind our fans of a Juwan Howard-type of player, except three inches shorter. He's got to get stronger and under some defensive concepts but we envision him being in the rotation."
McRae says he feels just as quick and agile carrying 185 pounds as he did at 167 last spring.
"I never sit around, so I never really felt like I got it," he said of the additional 18 pounds.
Basically, the only time he notices the added poundage is when he's defending or attacking the basket.
"On the defensive end I'm able to bang a lot more," he said. "On the offensive end I'm able to finish more shots."
McRae probably has greater upside than any player on Tennessee's roster. That's because he was more into baseball than basketball until his sophomore year at Liberty County High School in Midway, Georgia.
"I played AAU ball in the ninth grade but my first real basketball game wasn't until I was a sophomore in high school," he recalled. "I was getting real tall, and my older brother Corey was pushing me to play."
McRae gave in to the pressure, and he's glad he did. He guided Liberty County to the state quarterfinals as a sophomore and again as a junior. As a senior he averaged 24 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 blocks per game in guiding his team to a 27-2 record. He went out with a bang, producing 37 points and 13 rebounds in his final game at Liberty.
Underscoring his elite status, McRae scored 25 points in the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association all-star game, then hit for 14 in the prestigious Derby Classic at Louisville. The experts at Scout.com were so impressed that they rated him the No. 9 shooting-guard prospect in America.
McRae has learned a lot since enrolling in UT's summer-school program last June. Playing in the Rocky Top Summer League and in pickup games with his Vol teammates proved especially educational.
"The level of competition is strong," he said. "Everybody on our team can start at a moment's notice. I learned a lot about my teammates playing in the Rocky Top League."
McRae picked up some more valuable lessons when Tennessee held its initial organized workouts of the preseason.
"I learned you've got to play hard, no matter how much time you're in," he said. "And we're really emphasizing defense, so everything I've learned on defense has been important."
Although Tennessee has a deep and fairly experienced roster, McRae has the tools to make a valuable contribution this season.
"He's a guy I've got my eye on," Vol junior Cameron Tatum said. "He's got a chance to be great once he adds a little bulk and some more maturity. He's just got to get out of that amateur stage. We're all excited when we're young but I expect great things from him."