COLUMBIA, S.C. — Jarnell Stokes admits he was playing on adrenaline when he first arrived at Tennessee, scoring in double figures in three of his first five games.
Now, the 18-year-old, mid-term freshman enrollee is trying to play with more smarts.
"I felt like I was involved the whole game, but it's not just about scoring the points," said Stokes, who had seven points and seven rebounds in the Vols' 73-64 win at South Carolina on Saturday night.
Stokes' effort followed up on consecutive eight-point, eight-rebound outings in games with Alabama (62-50 loss, Feb. 18) and Ole Miss (73-60 win, last Wednesday).
While those numbers might not be staggering, UT coach Cuonzo Martin is impressed with Stokes’ progress and abilities as the Vols (16-13, 8-6 SEC) prepare to play at LSU (17-11, 7-7) at 9 p.m. Wednesday (TV: CSS).
"Jarnell has a good pace to his game; he doesn't rush, he does a good job reading the defense, and for his size, he has good footwork and quickness," Martin said. "You're asking a kid that should still be in high school kid to come in and play at the SEC level against great competition without a preseason or the 14 games before league play."
The wrist injury Stokes suffered in a Feb. 7 prac
tice appears to still be having an effect on his jump shooting, though Stokes continues to downplay its significance.
"I haven't worn a brace the last two games — I've decided I'm going to get away from that," the 6-foot-8, 270-pound Stokes said. "It still hurts, but it's something I've got to play through."
Stokes said he's found his place in the system, whereas before he was trying to do everything, all of the time, and not necessarily executing as well as needed.
"I think I can do a better job scoring the ball," Stokes said. "I'm also missing a lot of small things in my game that I can fix, but I'm in the best shape of my life, and I've bought into more things defensively that I wasn't doing as well earlier this season.
"I'm just playing more of a role."
Martin is proud of how the team has taken in the freshman newcomer, and how Stokes has continued to grow.
"I think Jarnell is doing a great job, because you're talking about a guy who is doing all of this on the fly," Martin said. "When he came into the fold, our practices weren't as taxing, so a lot of things we had done consistently in the practices leading up to the season, Jarnell was getting bits and pieces.
"He's learning a lot in game situations."
Fan Support: UT coach Cuonzo Martin opened his postgame news conference by giving credit to the hundreds of orange-clad Vols fans who attended the game.
"First off, I'd like to thank our fans," Martin said. "They showed up and did a tremendous job supporting us. That was great to see and gave us great energy and gave our guys enthusiasm, and that was good for us to feed off. That was great for us and our program."
The Vols, who rank sixth in the nation in home attendance, averaging 17,114, are hoping to pass Wisconsin and get back into the country's top five.
The Badgers are averaging 17,175 per home game at the 17,230-seat Kohl Center with home games remaining against Minnesota on Tuesday and Illinois on Saturday.
If Wisconsin sells out its final two home games — a distinct possibility against border-state rival schools — the Badgers would finish averaging 17,181.
In that scenario, UT would need to draw approximately 18,300 fans to finish in the top five in home attendance for a seventh consecutive season.
Orange Slices: It was the third game this season that the Vols didn't trail (UNC Greensboro, Nov. 11, The Citadel, Dec. 29). ... Trae Golden scored 20 points or more for the fifth game of the season and for the first time since playing at Mississippi State (Jan. 12). ... Jordan McRae has scored in double figures in four of the past five games and is averaging 12.8 points per game in that span. ... The Vols are 3-1 with their current starting lineup.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32