The Charleston, South Carolina, native plays for the Porter-Gaud School, with which he has won three state championships. He also won a gold medal with the United States' under-18 team at the 2018 FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
He explained his decision to pick Tennessee rather than stay in state to play for Clemson in a first-person piece written for the Moultrie News, a weekly newspaper in Charleston. James said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes offered him a scholarship when he was 13 years old.
"I was shocked when Coach Barnes told me that he loved my game and wanted to offer," James wrote. "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."
He added that how he was treated by the coaching staff and players at Tennessee during his official visit sealed the deal.
"We played pickup with some of the team one morning while the coaches were still at breakfast," James wrote. "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."