University of Texas president Gregory Fenves played a minor roll in helping the Longhorns secure a commitment from James Banks

Banks has only been playing basketball since he was in 10th grade.

Sonja Banks gave her son, four-star center James Banks, a quick pep talk just before he walked into the office of University of Texas president Gregory Fenves on his official visit at the beginning of September.

The talk was brief and to the point: remember to act like a gentleman. 

Who knew Longhorns head coach Shaka Smart would be getting such a big assist from the school president when it came to helping his program secure a commitment from one of the nation’s top post players.

“I saw a connection, and this may be weird, with the President and my son,” she said. “When they talked and they walked in it was as if they had known each other forever. When they met each other, there was a bond I saw between the President and my son that was so special to me. It was as if they’d known each other forever.”

That feeling fell in line with how Banks and his mother felt with the rest of Texas’ coaching staff, namely Smart and assistant Mike Morrell, who spearheaded the recruitment of the No. 45 player in 2016 who gave his verbal pledge to UT on Thursday morning.

Sonja Banks knows her stuff. She understands that smoke and mirrors can sometimes be used to during a prospects recruitment to make things better than they really are.

She was cautious on that visit with her son to Austin last month, but optimistic that there wouldn’t be any fluff. There wasn’t and that was to Texas’ benefit.

“What we did was get down to the nuts and bolts of it and put away the fluff and really, really looked at it from a sense of just, for a lack of a better term, looking at it for what it is,” she said. “What we saw was a school environment that he could thrive in. He had an opportunity to meet with some of the professors. That was awesome.”

They also got a better feel for Smart, Morrell and the rest of the Longhorns staff, which was absolutely critical to Texas landing one of its top targets. 

“I feel strongly that Shaka Smart and the assistant coaches played a very, very instrumental part in his decision in that you could see that there was something special about Shaka and Mike Morrell,” she said.

She came away very pleased with the genuine efforts Morrell made with her son, the leap of faith he took recruiting him considering how young he really is to the game.

“He saw the potential and made it known,” Sonja Banks said of Morrell. “He was very clear in what he saw in him, in his ability and what he could do while understanding James has only played for about three years. He saw something in him and he made it very clear about what they were able to do with him in the sense of molding him as a player.”

As Sonja mentioned, her son has only been playing basketball for three years, since he was in 10th grade.

The reason is simple in theory but much deeper in explanation.

Banks grew up playing football because his father, who he is named after, was a football player, a powerful man that stood 6-foot-6.

It was a way of staying connected to his father who passed away from a motorcycle accident in 2002 when the younger Banks was four.

“So what James saw was a whole bunch of helmets, pads and those things that were left behind so he wanted to play football like his dad,” Sonja said.

The transition to the hardwood from the gridiron seemed like an easy one for a kid that seemed to be growing an inch per day. But it was anything but easy on Banks or his mother.

“Once he finally got to high school ball, it was so awkward that it would bring me to tears,” she said. “He didn’t know how.

“But when he finally got into it I saw in him things that other coaches couldn’t see. I saw the potential in him. He always kept a good attitude and always encouraged everybody else. Those are qualities I’m proud of as a mother.”

Once the mental and physical tools started to come together on the court, the rest was history.

“We couldn’t go anywhere – the store, the gas station – without somebody wanting to recruit him,” she said.

UT’s staff saw the potential in Banks and made him a priority.

That went a long way toward UT securing his commitment on Thursday… with an assist from the university president.


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