Jarnell Stokes' first day of practice with the Vols
Jarnell Stokes brought a whole new meaning to the University of Tennessee's "Big Orange" catchphrase Monday afternoon.
Clad in a reversible orange and white top and orange shorts, Stokes took to the Pratt Pavilion court for his first practice with the men's basketball team.
Stokes, who earlier in the day received final approval from the SEC office to play in games, dwarfed teammates around him.
If the 6-foot-8 Stokes wasn't taller than the guy next to him, his 270-pound frame certainly was thicker.
Before anyone in the media circus at Monday's open practice could get too carried away with the state's top-rated prospect, UT coach Cuonzo Martin threw up a roadblock.
"I don't think he'll play this week," Martin said. "It's a matter of when we feel he's ready, physically, to play. He's so far removed from playing 5-on-5 with contact, cutting, running and jumping."
Stokes, ruled ineligible by the TSSAA to play his senior season of high school after transferring from Memphis Central to Southwind, hasn't competed since playing AAU in August.
The Vols (8-7, 1-0 SEC) play at No. 20 Mississippi State (13-3, 0-1) on Thursday (TV: ESPN2, 9 p.m.) before returning to Knoxville to play host to No. 2 Kentucky (15-1, 1-0) at noon on Saturday (TV: ESPN).
Next week's games are at Georgia (Jan. 18) and at home against Connecticut (Jan. 21).
Stokes moved well in Monday's drill work, cutting sharply and dunking effortlessly. His basketball IQ, Martin indicated, matches the one he exhibited in the class room while taking honors courses and graduating early in December.
Martin said he wouldn't take it easy on the mid-term enrollee despite his layoff, promising to "push him to his threshold."
That Stokes came in at 270 pounds — 15 pounds more than his previously listed weight of 255 — might be partially attributed to the 18th birthday dinner he had with his family Saturday night at Copper Cellar.
"He does like to eat," said Stokes' older brother, Chris. "But after dinner he came to the gym to work out."
Martin said Stokes shouldn't have any problem picking up the playbook.
"We brought him in with a couple guys to go over some of the terminology and things we do offensively and defensively," Martin said. "It's really one day at a time. We'll try to simplify a lot of things. The most important things is for him to demand the basketball and also play as hard as he can play."
Martin said the Vols' motion offense should ease the transition.
"We probably only ran about four plays against Florida; with our motion offense, our ball screen offense, we try to stay away from running a lot set plays," Martin said. "We'll put him in situations where he doesn't have to remember a lot of plays early."
Martin seemed more certain about playing Stokes sooner than later, going so far as to discuss a potential huge front-line rotation.
"Renaldo (Wooldridge) can do some things where we could play him some at small forward," Martin said.
Walk-on Sits: UT's newest walk-on, point guard Cory Stanton, showed up to practice in street clothes, as he has yet to be cleared to participate.
Stanton has been admitted to UT, but he still needs to pass his physical before practicing. By NCAA rule, UT cannot comment on Stanton until classes begin Wednesday.
The 5-foot-11 Stanton played for former UT captain Johnny Darden (1975-79) at Springfield High School before starting his collegiate career at Clemson last season. Stanton transferred to Lipscomb last July with three years of eligibility remaining before enrolling at UT mid-term.
Gator Slayer: UT assistant John Harris had the scout assignment for the Florida win. Kent Williams has drawn Mississippi State and Tracy Webster has the unenviable task of trying to come up with a scheme for Kentucky.
Lineup Status Quo: Martin indicated the starting lineup will remain the same "unless someone gets injured or has a really, really bad couple of days of practice, and I don't see that happening."
Asked how the lineup change motivated displaced starters Kenny Hall and Jordan McRae against Florida, Martin replied: "...they had 14 games to be motivated to play basketball ... it's just being hungry to play, more than anything. It's not just who starts games, though, it's who finishes the game."
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32