Christmas came in the summer for the Memphis Tigers volleyball team.
Excitement was building for the annual gear day in early August, ahead of the season. The players entered the locker room together and ripped open gift wrap that revealed brand new apparel.
One special delivery stood out from the pack.
This year’s surprise? A brand new pair of Ja 1’s that many people hadn’t even had access to yet. Shortly after, a photo was posted on the team’s social media accounts.
“Everyone was seeing it and was like, ‘Y’all got Ja’s?’ ” senior setter Loren Robertson said. “We were like, ‘Yep! Y’all don’t, we do!’ ”
Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant announced last Christmas that he was receiving his own signature sneaker with Nike, and he teased and debuted a few colorways.
Memphis isn’t the only school surprised with Ja 1 sneakers. Murray State, Radford and Mississippi Valley State recently also have been gifted Ja 1’s.
A theme for each colorway has been about the stops on Morant’s journey. He played college basketball at Murray State before becoming the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Former Murray State assistant coach Shane Nichols is now at Radford, and Morant’s younger sister, Niya, is in her freshman year on the Mississippi Valley State women’s basketball team.
“Coming here with it being my first year and all, the excitement of the new gear we were going to get was so exciting, but especially seeing Ja’s shoes made me really excited,” freshman outside hitter Hannah Jones said. “I’ve always been interested in watching Ja play in the NBA and seeing how cool his shoes were . . . The opportunity of getting to wear them is so cool.”
Memphis, Murray State and Radford received the ember glow colorway. Mississippi Valley State got a special delivery with an unreleased colorway that’s not expected to debut until closer to Halloween.
The shoes have even started to trickle their way into NBA preseason action. Grizzlies players Shaq Harrison, Jacob Gilyard and David Roddy each wore a colorway in Sunday’s preseason opener against the Indiana Pacers. T.J. McConnell, who plays point guard for the Pacers, wore the bright mandarin Ja 1’s against the Grizzlies.
“They’re good for sure,” Roddy said. “Lightweight, durable and has support for an explosive athlete like he is.”
It’s not just the NBA players who have given positive reviews. Though some volleyball players and teams wear Nike basketball shoes, it’s not uncommon to see volleyball sneakers on the court from brands like Mizuno, Adidas and Asics, among others.
Memphis junior outside hitter Tabytha Toelke has had foot injuries throughout her career. She has worn what she calls volleyball shoes, and she also has laced up in other signature Nike shoes.
This season, she has worn only the Nike Ja 1’s the past two months, and she’s encouraged by the results.
“I haven’t really had issues with these that have hurt my feet,” Toelke said. “So far, I think these are the best ones that my feet haven’t hurt in.”
Outside of Morant’s reverse colorways on previous releases, the EYBL Ja 1 player exclusives that debuted in Memphis this summer and Tiffany Hayes’ golden swoosh PE Ja 1’s have been available to the public.
Morant is serving a 25-game NBA suspension for conduct detrimental to the league, so other than in occasional practice clips, he won’t be seen playing basketball in his sneakers until December.
If you want to see the new flavors, look no further than the connections Morant has made in his basketball journey.
“I got to find a newer shoe for the rotation,” Roddy said. “He hasn’t missed on the colorways yet.”