Josiah James is the top-ranked basketball player in South Carolina. He’s listed as the third-best combo guard in the entire nation. He’s won three state championships at Porter-Gaud and a gold medal with Team USA. He's the highest-rated player to ever come out of the Lowcountry. Josiah received his first scholarship offer in sixth grade. He’s collected 41 more since then.
These are his words, his story, told his way. This is his decision.
always knew I was going to play college basketball.
That’ll probably read kind of bold in print. I don’t want to sound braggadocios. My classmates at Porter-Gaud will go on to become chartered accountants. They’ll become doctors and lawyers and build bridges. And that’s cool. That’s something worth bragging about. But for me, as far back as I can remember, basketball was all I ever wanted to do.
I was raised by this game. My mother was refereeing Division I basketball games while she was pregnant with me inside her belly. I didn’t have a teddy bear in my crib as a baby. I had a basketball. You can’t make this stuff up, man. My father, brother and uncle all played college basketball. It runs in our blood. There’s no faking this.
I know what you’re probably thinking. You want me to get on with it. I know you’re here for my college commitment. And we’ll get to that. We will. But first, hear me out. Because lately I’ve been known best as a prospect ranking, another number, a rating. But this has always been about more than five stars. This journey is more than just a recruiting process. This is actually my life.
What are you supposed to think when you call Rick Barnes from a parking lot outside of an AAU tournament at 13 years old and he offers you a scholarship to Tennessee? You know what I mean? But you can’t ever duplicate the feeling of that first big-time offer, man. I’d just had the worst game ever too. Four points, five turnovers, maybe two assists. I was shocked when Coach Barnes told me that he loved my game and wanted to offer. A school like Tennessee is so prestigious. That was my first big offer, first time talking to a Power 5 school. I’ll never get that feeling again. I was barely even a teenager. They saw something in me from Day 1 and that really meant a lot to me.
I remember thinking how cool it was that Barclay Radebaugh offered me a scholarship to Charleston Southern during halftime at one of my games when I was in middle school. I couldn’t even spell his name but he knew mine and he wanted me on his team. Nothing was ever the same again. Imagine how it felt to have Mike Krzyzewski take you on a tour through Duke a few years later. I didn’t even worry about spelling that one. What are you supposed to think when Coach K wants you as his point guard? Me, I mean, a kid from North Charleston and here he is, the GOAT, trying to convince me.
I’m telling you, it’s easy to get caught up in everything. It’s hard to play it cool sometimes. You meet these coaches and see all the banners and accolades and you want to be a part of it right away. That’s how I felt on every visit.
The recruiting process made me grow up quick. It made me a man. Maybe I shouldn’t say I’m a man yet. But it definitely goes through different phases. In the beginning, you’re like a kid in a candy shop. You want to hear from this school, that school. You can’t wait to take the calls. But it got to a point for me where I was getting way too many. I didn’t know how to manage it. It got to the point where I didn’t want to answer any calls.
Always having my coach, John Pearson, around definitely helped me out a lot. I remember the first day college coaches were allowed to call me, I told J.P. how excited I was. He told me to remember that feeling months from now when things get hectic. He knew what was coming, I guess.
The people who were in my shoes before me, like Aaron Nesmith, Travis Smith, Khris Middleton, my brother K.J., people like that helped me figure out how to handle it all. I definitely owe them for that.
There are a lot of people around lately. More than there ever used to be. Just because they’re around you doesn’t mean they have your best interest at heart. My mom always tells me that. It’s hard to know the difference though. People are good at faking things. A lot of people want to hang around just because of the attention and when it’s gone, they’re gone. I’ve tried to keep my circle tight.
Loyalty is something that goes deep with me. Relationships are everything. When we got to Tennessee for my official visit, the whole coaching staff and all the players were waiting to meet me and my family. We played pickup with some of the team one morning while the coaches were still at breakfast. Lamonte Turner was guarding me and I remember I got by him one time but I got fouled on the layup. He pulled me aside and showed me a little trick to get more space at the rim. He didn’t have to do that. Little things like that matter to me, man.
Coach Barnes sat in the gym with me for about an hour after. When I get tired, I start to sling the ball instead of having it in the high pocket. He noticed that right away and tried to help me fix it. I swear Tennessee has the best player development in the country. What other coach will sit in the gym with me for an hour and point out my weaknesses instead of just talking me up? That really stuck out to me on my visit. It wasn’t just a show.
So you’ve probably guessed it by now. Yes, I’m committing to the University of Tennessee.
That felt really good to get that out there.
Coach Barnes was pacing around and smiling when I told him. He knew we had a great relationship so I don’t think he was that surprised. You can never really tell. I know he was really excited though and I was too.
Those SEC games with me at Tennessee now and Aaron at Vanderbilt are going to be crazy. That’s my guy. But we can’t ever lose to Vandy.
It really isn’t anything against Duke or Clemson. They both were great. Really great. But people always said when you know, you’ll know. And I knew. I already knew in my heart so I didn’t think it was fair to waste anybody’s time. That wouldn’t be a cool move on my part.
Calling the coaches and telling them you’re not coming is the hardest part. You build these relationships and then you’re kind of cutting them off all of a sudden. It’s a bad feeling as a human being. I’m not like that. I like to make everyone happy and I can’t with this decision.
Everybody has their own opinion on it. And when I tell you everybody has an opinion, listen ev-ery-bo-dy wants to give their input. And that’s fine. My friends can’t believe how many DMs I have when I open Instagram. It’s usually either a little kid or a college kid telling me how awesome their school is. I try to respond to most of them. Except when it’s like a grown man I don’t know telling me what I should do. Those ones crack me up the most.
I know a lot of people wanted me to stay home. Being able to put on for my home state at Clemson would’ve been amazing. It was in the back of my head. I admit, I don’t think I can get that same home-state feeling at Tennessee. But that’s not the only thing I was looking for. Players have to do what’s best for them. Everybody else is going to. And I know the people who really care for me will follow my journey to Tennessee.
I can build a legacy of my own there. Not that Tennessee hasn’t had great players in the past because they have and they still do right now. But taking a little bit different route than what people probably expected was more for me.
I’m not going to lie. This process was one of the hardest things I’ve done. It’s crazy. It’s always creeping in the back of your mind whatever you’re doing. It can bring a lot of problems into a teenager’s life that you would never expect. You’re not always at the top having a great day. It’s not always 40-ounce tomahawk steaks on recruiting trips. There are definitely more good days than bad days though. It’s all part of it. It’s all part of the life you dream about as a kid.
That’s what committing to Tennessee is for me — a dream I’ve had since I was a kid coming true. It’s been a long time coming. From the Carolina Cavaliers to TMP, Northwood to Porter-Gaud, Team USA, now on to Rocky Top.
It feels good. I feel like I can breathe a little more now. I can enjoy being a high school kid again. That’s nice. We do still have one more state championship to win at Porter-Gaud though.
So I got to go get back in the gym.