James shines against Arkansas while playing with heavy heart

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    Tennessee sophomore guard Josiah-Jordan James scored a career-high 17 points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds to nearly record a double-double in the Vols’ 79-74 win over Arkansas on Wednesday night.

    The Charleston, South Carolina native did so bearing the weight of a heavy heart.

    James’ family home was struck by a firework on New Year’s Eve according to Scott Eisberg of WCIV in Charleston. The firework hit right above James’ room and because the conditions were just right to spread, the home suffered major smoke and water damage. Most of James’ personal belongings in his room were ruined, including his sports memorabilia collection.

    His mom waited until after Saturday’s game against Alabama to tell him about the incident and asked Tennessee head basketball coach Rick Barnes to keep an eye on him “because he is the kind of guy that will hold things in.”

    “You know Josiah is just an incredible human being,” Barnes said when asked by Eisberg about James’ focus against the Razorbacks following the incident. “He is the kind of guy that keeps locked in himself, and I am sure he has not been home in a while, but he is probably thinking back that it is all gone. He lost everything in his room.

    “I remember the night we went in and recruited him. I went up into his room, and he had a North Carolina poster in his room. All I said to him is I told him how sorry we were about what had happened, but at least that poster got burnt up. But he handles it well, and he is such a mature guy.”

    James signed with the Vols as a five-star prospect out of Porter-Gaud School in Charleston. After dealing with injuries during his true freshman season, the 6-foot-6 guard has blossomed into Tennessee’s most consistent player this year.

    He leads the team in both rebounding (6.6) and steals (1.9), is second in assists (2.6) and blocks (1.0), and is fourth in scoring (9.0). James is shooting 44.3% from the field and 36% from the three-point line.

    “He is such a hard worker, and he is as good of a teammate as you want to be around,” Barnes said. “He is quickly starting to become the voice of this team in terms of talking during timeouts talking to guys when they are down. He is the first guy to go up to them, and encourage guys, and all those kinds of things.

    “I am sure somewhere in the back of his mind he has thought a lot about (the fire). But obviously, his main thought was that everybody was safe. But I am sure it will even hit him more when the season is over with, and he goes home, and it is not home anymore.”

    Tennessee (8-1, 1-1 SEC) will be back in action this Saturday at 2 p.m. ET against Texas A&M (6-3, 1-2).