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Tennessee photo by Andrew Ferguson / Tennessee guard Josiah-Jordan James, shown during a game last December at Cincinnati, is eager to resume a basketball career with the Volunteers that was halted at the Southeastern Conference tournament in March by the coronavirus outbreak.

Josiah-Jordan James had the final chapter of his freshman year on the University of Tennessee basketball team written by the coronavirus outbreak.

The Volunteers had completed a 17-14 regular season and were roughly an hour away from tipping off as the eighth seed against ninth-seeded Alabama at the Southeastern Conference tournament in Nashville when league commissioner Greg Sankey pulled the plug on the five-day extravaganza.

Perhaps Tennessee would have lost handily to the Crimson Tide and had its season come to a close. Perhaps the Vols would have advanced a game or two and earned an NIT berth and a shot at a 20-win season. Perhaps Tennessee would perform the unlikely feat of winning four games in four days to attain a third consecutive NCAA tournament bid.

James will never know, nor does the 6-foot-6, 207-pounder from Charleston, South Carolina, have any idea when his sophomore season will start amid this unrelenting pandemic.

"I can't really worry about that, because it is not in my control," James said. "I can just take care of what I can take care of daily — getting better each and every day and being here for my teammates — and that is all I have been worrying about. I think if we do have a season, there will be a lot of thought that goes into it, and it will be the right decision and safest decision if they decide to do that.

"If they decide to cut the season or not have a season, then that is something I will have to live with, and it will probably be the safest decision."

While college football tries to avoid further cancellations of games after the Big Ten and Pac-10 announced their plans to stage league-only seasons, former Kentucky and Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, now at Iona College, is among those who already have floated the idea of a conference-only hoops season that would start in January.

Nine days before the 2019-20 college basketball season came to a screeching halt, James scored 16 second-half points to lead the Vols to a stunning 81-73 comeback triumph over Kentucky on senior night at Rupp Arena. Tennessee trailed by 17 points early in the second half, but a James 3-pointer with 6:47 remaining gave the Vols a 61-60 lead.

James averaged 8.2 points and a team-leading 42.6% in 3-point shooting during SEC play last season, but last season seemed like a decade ago when he recently conducted a Zoom meeting while wearing a mask.

"It's definitely a new normal, and it took a little while getting used to," he said. "For our group shooting, the managers are allowed to be on the floor with you. They have gloves. They are able to pass the ball to you and kind of take you through a workout with them."

James has a morning lift and receives treatment before his group shooting with managers. He has an online class afternoons from 12:30 to 1:30 and then takes time to shoot at 3 and again at 7.

Two Tennessee basketball players several weeks ago tested positive for the coronavirus, but their names have not been revealed.

"We just sent them words of encouragement each and every day, and, thankfully, that's over," James said. "It definitely put into perspective how real this is, because those are the closest people I know. It kind of sits in the back of my mind now every day, just taking the right safety precautions.

"Even though sometimes I don't really feel like wearing a mask, I have to."

Tennessee is receiving its share of preseason attention with the return of James, John Fulkerson, Yves Pons and Santiago Vescovi, as well as the addition of a top-five signing class nationally highlighted by the top-20 talents of guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson. The Vols announced this past week that season tickets are now for sale, but what their front-to-back schedule looks like remains unknown.

James is angling to become more of a leader as a sophomore, with the former top-15 national signee appreciative of where he is during these uncertain times.

"I feel as safe as I can be," James said. "I know that the staff here, not only in the basketball facilities but in our dorm hall, are taking the right safety precautions each and every day. There is nothing I should be afraid of, because I know they are getting the job done.

"Like I said, having two of our teammates be diagnosed with COVID-19 definitely made it real for us."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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