Jarnell Stokes' growth measured on court

Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes (5) goes up for a basket against MTSU during the first half of the NIT second-round game at Thompson-Boling Arena Monday, March 19, 2012.  (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2012

Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes (5) goes up for a basket against MTSU during the first half of the NIT second-round game at Thompson-Boling Arena Monday, March 19, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

More mature Jarnell Stokes returns to Thompson-Boling after playing U18 in Brazil

Tennessee fans first gazed upon Jarnell Stokes back in mid-January. A 6-foot-8 fire hydrant with size 20 shoes, he walked onto the Thompson-Boling Arena floor for an affair with then-No. 2 Kentucky.

Stokes was supposed to be on winter break at his high school in Memphis at the time. Instead, more than 20,000 fans were nudging one another, saying, "Look at the shoulders on that kid."

The debut didn't disappoint. Stokes, a midyear enrollee at UT, scored nine points and pulled nine rebounds over 17 minutes in a narrow loss.

Media swarmed afterward. Wide-eyed and soft-spoken, Stokes said, "A scared man is a dead man. ... It felt different, the atmosphere, the crowd. That was something I wasn't used to."

A little less than six months later, Stokes is still hushed and humble. Everything else, though, is different.

Thrown to the wolves blindfolded, Stokes wrestled through his first 17 college games at UT. He averaged 9.0 points and 7.7 rebounds with a couple double-doubles. At times he was star. Other times he was pedestrian.

At all times, he was a SEC power forward that should have still been in high school. That was never easy to remember, but this spring, Stokes got a reminder.

"You leave the SEC and come back to playing with your age group — it's crazy how much easier it gets and how much smaller the other guys are," Stokes said Monday, donning a USA basketball shirt compliments of his gold-medal trip to Brazil for the FIBA Americas U18 championship a little over two weeks ago.

Wiser, smarter and stronger, Stokes played alongside and against high school seniors and juniors in Brazil. He said Monday a semester under UT coach Cuonzo Martin made it glaringly clear that he's taken a long stride past his counterparts.

"Banging with guys like (former 6-11, 255-pound Vanderbilt center) Festus Ezeli and then banging with guys that are my age, you can definitely tell the difference," Stokes said.

With that realization comes an up-kick in confidence. Stokes said when he arrived at UT last winter he wanted to "take jump shots and be real pretty" and "fit in and (not) mess anything up."

No one wants a passive 6-8, 250-pound power forward. Stokes said that's a thing of the past. Billy Donovan, the Florida coach who steered the U.S. team in Brazil, echoed the sentiment after winning gold.

"There was no one guy down there who could match up to him physically," Donovan said. "He just overwhelmed other teams' frontcourts."

As for Stokes' comparative maturation among his teammates, Donovan noted, "There was a better understanding of everything."

At the U.S. team's training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., Stokes played the role of a student-teacher. Instead of participating in drills, he taught the nuances of flat screens and traps.

"I knew all the schemes and I knew basically everything (Donovan) was throwing at the guys," Stokes said. "He really had me teaching it to guys on the sidelines."

When the lights were on in Brazil, Stokes averaged 14.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and shot 68.9 percent in 20.2 minutes per game

After Stokes met with the media Monday, Martin remembered back to when the acclaimed high school star arrived at midseason. Most players are given a summer to dip their toes in college waters. Stokes was given a uniform and pushed in the pool.

"This guy was right in the trenches at the college level and he's one of the most talked about guys in the history of the program," Martin said. "Remember he had all those things going on. That's not an easy thing to do, but he did a great job of it."

And now it's behind him.

Stokes sported a wry smile when he said, "I have the power to go for 20 points and 20 rebounds and I have the power to ask for the ball when I have a weaker defender on me. Last year I didn't really have the relationship with my teammates to do that."

That doesn't sound like a scared man.

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn

Get Copyright Permissions © 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2012 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 11

Simply_Orange51 writes:

What a difference a year makes...... good luck this season ...... fun to watch players grow into men...... UT will be hard to stop inside if everyone stays healthy. Now, they need someone who can burn the barn down from outside and with some good team defense; who knows..... maybe a surprise or two out there somewhere.... we'll see.

allvol32 writes:

Can't wait to watch the 2012-13 version of Cuonzo Martin coached TN basketball!!!

Jarnell is going to bring it and the team is going to earn some respect this year - Cuonzo Martin will be SEC Coach of the year...

BruisedOrange writes:

Opining from Pennsyltucky while on vacation:

I have no doubt next season Jarnell will become one of the all-time greatest Vols.

But I have nagging doubts, because of the POSITION he plays, that he can be a game-changer against Top 20 competition. There are just too many ways a team can negate his individual impact. At least, until he gets to a higher level in court-smarts. Gotta be crafty with that size to win in the big time.

And Jarnell WILL become that crafty player--I just don't know in what color uniform.

richvol writes:

I just hope that Jarnell comes to play with the attitude he can't be stopped...because he can't. No one can handle him.

SCVFL writes:

Sounds like he is gaining confidence and working under Donovan he is also gaining knowledge of the game (from a different perspective).
I agree with Simply Orange that if we can find a floor leader and a consistent 3-pointer, Tennessee will be getting lots of attention and respect from the rest of the league.
GO BIG RNG...VFL

volwr88 writes:

Big year coming up for Stokes if he wants to make the big bucks. Can't afford a "Soph jinx" type year and u can bet SEC teams won't be caught off guard. He's gonna get "manhandled" this year.

underthehill writes:

in response to volwr88:

Big year coming up for Stokes if he wants to make the big bucks. Can't afford a "Soph jinx" type year and u can bet SEC teams won't be caught off guard. He's gonna get "manhandled" this year.

No one player manhandled Stokes last year and there is no chance they will do so this year..he sheds contact from other players like water on a ducks back..his rebounding instincts are not taught..they are developed by the players own will and talent..and Stokes has the "it" all coaches want their inside players to have..Maymon also has the same rebounding skills but does not have as much size..UT has the outside shooters to be a complete team..just have to do a better job screening and getting them open looks....seems to be the general feeling it's going to be an interesting year for UT basketball and a very special coach....

laraccoon writes:

in response to BruisedOrange:

Opining from Pennsyltucky while on vacation:

I have no doubt next season Jarnell will become one of the all-time greatest Vols.

But I have nagging doubts, because of the POSITION he plays, that he can be a game-changer against Top 20 competition. There are just too many ways a team can negate his individual impact. At least, until he gets to a higher level in court-smarts. Gotta be crafty with that size to win in the big time.

And Jarnell WILL become that crafty player--I just don't know in what color uniform.

i think playing alongside Maymon will make it harder for teams to "negate" Stokes being able to score. I think the biggest worry will be outside shooting which is something we have lacked and in my opinion will do the most to open up the inside game , and i think that is what Martin has tried to recruit . either way should be an interesting season hopefully in a good way . at the very least U T should be a very tough and hardnosed team that will be able to physically wear opponents down .

mocsandvolsfan writes:

It's the truth that Stokes will not get us there by himself. We need a great team effort game in and game out. we especially need good distribution of the ball. Smart distribution. We need to draw out those defenses away from Hall Maymon and Stokes...well Miller too and Makan...Actually JUST GET the BALL INSIDE!! No excuses Golden. You're healed now right?? GO BIG ORANGE!

sly_stone99#434111 writes:

Stokes will have a stellar season, but the point guard play is critical. If Golden can sure that area up this team will be fun to watch.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to RockyTopRenegade:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

An exceptionally insightful post! Your explanation of the philosophy of the motion offense should be clear to any interested fan. I like the term "predatory offense". Run correctly, with a trained eye for openings in the defense, it doesn't require phenomenal talent to score any night against any opponent. It's all a matter of guys making routine shots and simple plays every time. Some might even say that the ability to know what to do, when, is just as much of a talent--or more accurately a developed skill and often the difference in wins and losses--as any other in the game.

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features