KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — ‘Hoops for Hope’ returned after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tennessee Basketball helped with the event for the 13th consecutive year.

The event benefits the Down Syndrome Awareness Group of East Tennessee. Vols and Lady Vols introduced and played games with event participants.

I’m sure I’ll create memories today that will last me a lifetime,” said Tennessee senior guard Josiah-Jordan James. “It’s just a lot of joy. I know I keep saying it makes me happy, but it really does. That’s the only word I can use to describe it. Just because the circumstances that they have. They don’t let it bog them down or anything like that. They function and have an everyday life. Just like everybody else.”

For Tennessee guard Zakai Zeigler, the event hit a little closer to home.

“It’s a great feeling because I have a disabled nephew at home, so just seeing all the kids in here have fun and smile and all their laughter, it makes me feel good,” said Zeigler. “I just have a soft spot for disabled people. It’s just a really good feeling and I love these type of events.”

This is the first time in the Kellie Harper era that the Lady Vols participated in the event. Not a single player on the team had previous experience with ‘Hoops for Hope’.

“Basketball is a little bigger than we thought,” said redshirt sophomore wing Marta Suárez. “We have such a big platform. We’ve been given such a big platform and resources to make people like this feel happy. Even though they may not know who we are personally, they look up to us. It also gives us a little more of perspective on how much good we can do for the community.”

The Down Syndrome Awareness Group of East Tennessee brings professionals and families together to support individuals with Down Syndrome.