How the Vols are finding ways to kill time in the NCAA Tourney bubble

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    When the NCAA announced it would be housing teams inside a bubble in Indianapolis, many teams were wondering what that might actually feel like. Well, as Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes and Josiah-Jordan James discussed on Wednesday, it’s a lot like the bubble the NBA implored.

    The Vols arrived in Indianapolis on Monday following a bus ride up I-65 from Nashville, where they remained after being eliminated from the SEC Tournament by Alabama on Saturday. So, as they got off the bus at their hotel, it was lockdown for 24 hours.

    “We are certainly in the NCAA bubble,” Barnes said. “They have got this thing locked down in the way you would expect it to be. They are doing everything—from the time we got off the bus and arrived here to the way we went through the protocol and have gotten settled in. We are starting to get settled in now.”

    Tennessee hasn’t been through a quarantine like this one, especially when all the players can do is hang out on the floor of their hotel room. The team walks down to their eating area, to the convention center for practice where basketball courts are setup and back to the room. It’s definitely been interesting on how they’ve spent their time so far, especially without being able to go outside. The first time the Vols were able to leave the hotel since arriving was on Wednesday evening when they were able to go on a simple walk.

    “It’s tough as you would imagine, but we understand why we’re doing what we’re doing,” Barnes said. “To be quite honest and frank, do you feel bored? I think everyone does. I think every chance we get to get out, whether it’s to get out to a court and shoot or get outside—and we will be allowed to get out for the first time since we’ve been here to go for a little walk. It’s been tough, it has been and if you think about it, we still have another day to go. We’ve been moving and out, but today will be the first time we’ve actually been able to walk outside since we’ve been here.”

    Barnes knows this is difficult for every team, not just the Vols. It’s different, but they also understand the goal is to stay in Indianapolis for as long as possible. Even Barnes is a bit worried about how his team will react, going straight from the hotel to the arena on Friday. Something he’s discussed with other coaches.

    “It’s a grind what we’re doing,” Barnes said. “I think it’s hard on every team that here. I’ve said it before, I think we’ve got to thank our players, the players around the country and administrators for getting us to this point, knowing that once we got here, nobody knew exactly what to expect. I think it’s being done the very best way that it can be done, to try to make sure that things move the way they need to move. With that said, is it difficult on everybody? Yes, it’s different, even with all that we’ve gone through this year. I think the SEC and everything that we’ve done has been terrific, but it’s not like this. We’re in a real bubble right now. We have our floor. We walk from here down to our eating room and back. We didn’t do that for the first 36 hours. Today will be the first time that we get to get outside and get a little fresh air.”

    “It’s been pretty tough,” James added. “We’ve been shut down for a little bit, on lockdown. We were able to get back in the gym yesterday and today to practice. We were able to get outside. We’re being able to do a lot more as time goes on. At first, when we were locked down in our room for about 20 hours, it was tough. Guys were just chomping at the bit to just get outside the room. I respect the way that everybody here has handled it, as far as the people who are in charge of it and then the players and coaches who are involved.”

    For James, passing the time gives him creative ways to get other people involved. On Wednesday night, he held a Yoga session that his teammates could take part in, but also the Tennessee Facebook group members. He was adamant on making this yoga session one to remember, if anything just to take their minds off of basketball for a bit.

    “I woke up this morning and didn’t think about practice but was solely thinking about the yoga session,” James said. “I’m excited, I have a couple of my teammates who’s going to join me and Facebook live. I’m looking to interact with a lot of people there and for me to be able to do it for other people and positively affect their day and bring a little joy for the people at home.”

    The great part about all of this is that the group is together, though they might have their own things they enjoy, compared to others. James said it was all about Netflix, video games and yoga for him and his teammates.

    “When we were quarantined, I was watching Netflix during that time and just trying to stay off my feet,” James said. “I did a little bit of Yoga and played some video games with my teammates and that’s something that we do. Some guys are doing homework because we still have to take care of ourselves academically. After all, academics come first. As far as us as a team, we’re just playing video games, doing schoolwork, and making sure everyone is as happy as possible.”

    By they way, if you were wondering, James did give a few recommendations on what he was watching on Netflix to pass the time. I mean, it’s either workout, meetings, eating or hanging with his teammates in the room.

    “I finished up Queen of the South and I tried to get Last Chance U basketball which I usually love but since my life was filled up with so much basketball, I’m not really in the mood to watch basketball right now,” James said. “After I finished Queen of the South I started Naruto since some of my teammates are big anime guys and since I have so much time, I thought I’d give it a try.”

    There is nothing normal about this years NCAA Tournament, but it’s better that these guys have been prepared for something like this, even on a smaller scale. Barnes said today he wished they were playing tomorrow, because of the long wait. But in the meantime, Netflix, video games and basketball will do. This team is on a mission and hopes to extend their stay in Indianapolis at least until early April.

    If they run out of activities, Grant Williams might have to send Settlers of Catan.

    Trey Wallace is a Knoxville-based journalist who has been covering University of Tennessee athletics since early 2018. His passion for sports is evident in his work and has led him to break some of college football's biggest stories. His vast social media reach and natural podcast proficiency continue to make Wallace one of Vol Nation's most trusted sources. Wallace was born and raised in Mobile, AL and graduated from the University of South Alabama. He loves the mountains as much as the beach and looks forward to living in East Tennessee for many years to come.