When Josiah James arrived on the University of Tennessee’s campus this summer, he had no idea how close he and his teammates would quickly become.
He had no idea how much he’d mean to the community that quickly, either.
James was one of 15 UT basketball players helping put on their annual ‘Hoops for Hope’ event at Knoxville Christian School in Farragut, an event dedicated to benefiting Down Syndrome research.
As festivities began and the Vols helped introduce each team’s starting lineup, James couldn’t help but step back and take in the moment.
It certainly didn’t hurt seeing the grins on everyone’s faces either.
“This is by far at the top of my list of basketball events,” James said. “Just seeing the smile on their faces and knowing we can impact them in bigger ways than we could probably imagine is amazing.”
A McDonald’s All-American and five-star recruit coming out of high school, James was a highly sought-after prospect during his recruitment process. That didn’t stop head coach Rick Barnes from bringing the Charleston, South Carolina native to Knoxville.
Barnes, who nicknamed him ‘Burger Boy’ due to his All-American status, welcomed James with open arms when he began his summer classes in June. His teammates have done the same thing since then.
“We’re really starting to get into a groove,” James said. “My teammates are all awesome and I love each and every second I spend with them.”
One of those teammates in particular is senior guard Lamonte Turner, who is now one of Tennessee’s elder statesmen following the departure of Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander.
A former SEC Co-Sixth Man of the Year known for his ability to defend and make big shots, Turner is coming off a season in which he averaged 11 points per game despite dealing with a plethora of nagging injuries that kept him sidelined at times.
Taking James under his wing, the Florence, Alabama native will have much more responsibility this season, a role Turner has come to embrace after being unable to practice for much of the offseason.
“I had a greater impact I think being off the court and being able to just see everything and be a coach in his ear,” Turner said. “Just being on the sideline and helping him out when Coach (Barnes) was getting on to him...he’s come a long way.”
Turner is the culprit of two of Tennessee’s most memorable moments as a basketball program, his game winners against Kentucky in 2018 and 2019 forever enshrined in UT lore.
That doesn’t mean Turner hasn’t been left with nothing to be desired personally. After playing in 28 games last season, he’s now fully healthy and ready to go.
Crediting the Tennessee coaching and training staff for his rehabilitation, Turner praised their ability to be patient with him as he slowly worked his way back to full strength.
“I’m good. My coaches, my trainers, everybody has been doing a great job of getting me ready,” Turner said. “I’m feeling good and I’m ready.”
With the start of the season steadily approaching, the Vols continue to follow the Barnes example of giving back and bonding over the offseason.
If that means Turner and James becoming even closer, one would think that will only be a benefit for Tennessee long-term.