Jahmai Mashack has never been to Knoxville.
He has never met any of his future coaches at Tennessee in-person. He doesn’t he know when he will either due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Mashack is confident he found the right fit.
“It is really all about faith,” Mashack said.
How Mike Schwartz led Tennessee’s efforts
Mashack committed to Tennessee on Sept. 8, less than three months after he first heard from the Vols.
Associate coach Mike Schwartz called the Rancho Cucamonga Etiwanda guard for the first time in June. Mashack remembers the call as different than what he experienced with other potential suitors.
Schwartz told him Tennessee could offer him that day for his basketball skills, but would rather wait. He stressed the Vols wanted to get to know him as a person.
“That was something I didn’t hear from the coaches that offered me — that they wanted to know me as a human being first,” said Mashack, the No. 92 recruit in the 247Sports Composite. “That is big-time to me and my family.”
Mashack and Schwartz, who is from Los Angeles, struck up a relationship after the tone-setting initial conversation.
“He got to know my mom, my dad and my grandad,” Mashack said. “He wanted to get my family feel and how they were as people. Just seeing him and his character, how he talked to me, it was amazing.”
Mashack was impressed by the dedication and depth Schwartz showed in studying his film and learning about his game.
He returned the favor. He reached out to past and current players, including guard Josiah-Jordan James, to learn what they experienced at Tennessee. He asked questions about the development, education and coaching staff. He kept hearing the word “brotherhood,” which is what he sought.
“Nowadays, a lot of the kids my age care about the accessories and shoes and glamour,” Mashack said. “There are not a lot of people like me who really want to get to know the depth of a school. … That is what my family and I dug deep on was the fine details.”
One area stood out to Mashack: The player development at Tennessee and how Schwartz had a defined development plan for him.
“He sees how much I can grow and my potential as a player,” Mashack said. “With everything I have gone through the past two summers, he really felt for me. He thinks I can turn into a great talent. I really can get behind that.”
Why Tennessee was Mashack’s choice
Mashack was ready to put himself in this position in summer 2019. But he suffered a fractured foot and missed the AAU circuit.
Instead of making his name known, he watched his peers get the opportunity he craved.
“That is when I was really glad I had God and my family,” Mashack said.
He played his junior year on a loaded Etiwanda team that went 30-4. Mashack made his mark defensively, guarding the opponent’s best player and slotting in as a bigger guard in various lineups.
He hoped college coaches could see his trademarks as defense and winning.
“It is tough to choose between individual stats and winning,” Mashack said. “I chose winning. That was my pitch to (coaches).”
Mashack prepared to finally show his total potential this spring and summer, but in-person basketball recruiting halted due to the pandemic. He said losing a second straight summer took a toll on him because he couldn’t show people how much he worked.
Coaches noticed anyway. He picked up five offers in April, including Arizona and Oklahoma. He had seven offers by the end of May.
“That is when my mom was telling me it is all God,” Mashack said. “Ever since then, it has been going up and going crazy.”
The Vols offered Mashack on June 30, his eighth offer. He took a virtual visit to Knoxville via Zoom in July.
But an earlier Zoom stood out as Mashack made his decision. When the video call went through, all of Tennessee’s coaches were on the screen to talk to him. He loved the way they talked to each other and talked to him.
“With the mix of basketball and outside of basketball, that showed me what kind of program they were,” Mashack said.
He was sold.
“I talked to them for awhile and they got to know the true me and my intentions with basketball and my goals,” Mashack said. “They were high on me and wanted me. I just felt like it was the right fit for me and my future.”
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.