COLLIERVILLE — Jarnell Stokes’ roller-coaster senior season officially ended Thursday when he completed the schoolwork that allowed him to graduate early.
Next stop: Knoxville.
Stokes, the would-be Southwind High School basketball standout, announced his decision to play for Tennessee on Thursday during a press conference at Fino Villa restaurant.
He said he chose UT over Memphis, Arkansas, Kentucky and Florida and will be eligible to play immediately, pending his enrollment for the spring semester and clearance from the NCAA.
“Honestly, the decision was so back-and-forth,” Stokes said. “(Memphis) coach (Josh) Pastner called me on the first day he got the job. It’s going to be hard to leave the city that I love best but it’s time to grow up and be a man.
“I walk by faith and not by sight. And with prayer comes answers.”
Playing time was almost certainly a key factor for the 6-foot-8, 255-pounder, who was regarded as the nation’s No. 11 prospect when he was still in the class of 2011. Stokes would have had to sit out the remainder of the season had he chosen Memphis because the Tigers don’t have a scholarship to offer.
“I’m ready to play,” he said. “I’m not gonna lie. I’m going to be pushing to play.”
Stokes, who transferred to Southwind from Central last summer, was ruled athletically ineligible at Southwind by Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association executive director Bernard Childress in August because of transfer rules.
His hardship appeal to the TSSAA Board of Control was denied last month, leaving him ineligible to play his senior season at Southwind.
“I don’t regret anything about sitting out,” Stokes said. “If anything, it just showed me how much I really love basketball.”
Stokes drew plenty of laughs in his opening remarks, talking about how he grew from a “goofy kid with an Afro” who excelled in chess into one of the nation’s top prospects.
“It’s surreal for me to be standing here,” he said.
He also drew chuckles with his thoughts on Kentucky coach John Calipari.
“I know a lot of people around here don’t think highly of him, but he’s actually a very engaging guy,” Stokes said.
At UT, Stokes will be reunited with former Central teammate Cameron Clear, who played in all 12 games for the football team this past season as a freshman tight end.