When James Banks woke up Tuesday morning, his plan was to try to get better. With his teammates on the road for a game against Tennessee, that was the duty for the Georgia Tech post man as he was sitting out the season as a transfer from Texas. Banks got in a heavy weightlifting workout in the morning and was training again in the afternoon.
As the day progressed, Banks had no reason to suspect that the NCAA was about to render a decision on his claim for a waiver to enable him to play immediately as a hardship case. It was another day to wait, even though the season had begun and he had seen other players with similar cases already gain immediate eligibility in the NCAA’s relaxed climate in the realm of waiver granting.
“It was definitely frustrating,” Banks said. “I know of those guys personally. I feel like everything has its divine time. (I) just prayed about it, put it in God’s hands.”
Banks was speaking late Tuesday night, after his prayers were answered. His claim was granted that day, and he had played his first game for the Yellow Jackets.
“I was humbled just to be out there, grateful that I was able to get a chance to play with these guys to try to help them beat a really good team,” Banks said.
The outcome wasn’t what he wanted – a 66-53 loss to the No. 5 Volunteers. But it beat being back on campus without his teammates and uncertain of his playing status.
Banks’ day began to accelerate around 1:30 p.m., when Tech coach Josh Pastner received word from the athletic department’s compliance office that the waiver had been granted. Banks was eligible to play immediately, as soon as Tech’s second game of the season that night. Calls and texts started heading Banks’ way, only he wasn’t answering. He was working out.
“I come back to my phone, I see it’s been blowing up,” he said. “I’m like, Oh, what’s up? I read the text messages. Coach is saying, ‘You’re cleared to play,’ and for some reason, he’s like, it was optional. He was like, you know, if you want to come, let me know.”
There was no option about it for Banks. He was on his way to get to Knoxville for the 9 p.m. tipoff. Banks rushed to get his uniform and shoes and then hustled to the airport. In Knoxville, his teammates reacted predictably.
“We were stoked,” guard Shembari Phillips said. “We were happy. We were happy for him. I know he’s been wanting this, and we were happy, all smiles, that he was on the plane, ready to go.”
Banks said it wasn’t quite that simple. He said his plane began to board while he was still on his way to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, but he made it on the flight to Knoxville with a departure time of “4 something,” Banks said. He said he caught an Uber ride to the hotel, arriving around 6:15, about an hour and 15 minutes before the team left for Thompson-Boling Arena. He grabbed dinner, dressed for the game and hopped on the bus.
Without having prepared for the Volunteers – Banks was on the scout team that prepped the starters and backups for Tennessee and then missed the walk-through and strategy sessions in Knoxville – Banks wasn’t in ideal position to contribute.
He watched from the bench for most of the first half before Pastner put him in the game with 8:43 left in the first half for Abdoulaye Gueye. He was promptly scored on, then called for a goaltend on Tennessee’s next possession. Banks called it jitters.
“Just getting into the flow of the game,” he said.
Banks contributed to the torrent of fouls (30 in all) called on Tech. He fouled out in 16 minutes of play but scored five points and grabbed seven rebounds, pretty good production for limited time. He challenged shots and tangled with the Volunteers.
“I don’t feel like we were overwhelmed,” Banks said. “I feel like we were able to handle everything they were able to throw at us.”
Soon after speaking with reporters, Banks walked to the team bus, heading back to Atlanta less than 12 hours after he had left there in a rush to join his team. Tech will play again Friday against East Carolina, and this time there won’t be any uncertainty over whether Banks can play.
“I’m cleared, I’m able to play and now it’s just my turn to give GT fans what they want, give my teammates what they deserve, what we’ve been working towards this whole summer and this whole preseason,” he said.