Vols vs South Carolina
Josiah-Jordan James, #5, dunks the ball during the game against South Carolina on Saturday, January 11, 2020 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

It’s been a tumultuous 2020 for the Tennessee basketball team. A year that saw their season end early due to COVID-19 and that saw a pair of players test positive for the coronavirus after the team’s early June return to campus.

Despite all the adversity and a different way of doing business since the return to campus, sophomore Josiah-Jordan James is starting to see a new normal.

“It definitely is a new normal,” James said. “It took a little while getting used to, but I think that after a week or so of doing it kind of became the way of life. It’s not anything crazy, but it took a little bit of getting used to.”

“The new normal” includes an 8 a.m. lift, treatment, group shooting with managers and individual shooting times at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. The specific shooting times are a change to things for James, but an upfront look at COVID-19 and a sense of social responsibility has kept the Vols following the strict prevention measures.

“It was definitely tough seeing two of my close friends, two of my brothers test positive for COVID-19,” James said. “As a team we just sent the words of encouragement every day and thankfully that’s over, but it definitely put into perspective how real this is because those are the closest people, I know that came into contact with it and were diagnosed with it. … It put a seriousness to it and it kind of sits in the back of my mind every day, taking the right safety precautions.” 

“Even though they’ll be fine I think that as a community we have to take care of each other, and even though we’re in college and have great immune systems we have to look out for other people like the older people in our society.”

James is looking to build off a freshman season that saw him average 7.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game while missing time due to injury and never being fully healthy.

Now fully healthy, James has added yoga to his daily routine to help improve his flexibility and durability.

“It’s been really helpful,” James said. “I started about two months ago. Coach (Kim) English and coach (Mike) Schwartz got me on an app called peloton. I’ve gotten about 75 classes in and it’s definitely changed my body a lot. It’s made it a lot more flexible and it’s made my day a lot easier. … I’ve really tried to get one session in a day.”

Expectations are high for Tennessee in 2020-21 with most outlets tabbing the Vols as a top 15 team preseason. Despite not having the full team on campus, James sees a talented team that can have a special season.

“(I’m) very excited,” James said. “We have a group right now, even though Santi (Santiago Vescovi) and Uroš (Plavšić) aren’t here right now we have a group on campus that can do something really special. We just have to buy in to what coach is telling us, everyone buys into their role. … I think with the leaders that we have on this team, everybody stepping up in their role that we can really accomplish something special, and if it goes that way by March, we’ll be playing our best basketball.”

Part of James new role is being a leader with a heavy dose of talented freshman coming in, including five-stars Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer. As a former five-star himself James believes he can help the duo with the transition to the college game and dealing with coach Barnes’ intensity on the practice floor.

“I just want to have a bigger voice this year,” James said. “I definitely want to come in and get the best out of myself and everybody and stepping out of my comfort zone to be more of a leader this year. Knowing what to expect from coach and know what to expect of the season and just being there for my teammates day in and day out.”

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