There was one, then two, sometimes three.
They swarmed like flies to light on a summer night.
"This was really my first time seeing the double-team, as far as on the college level," said a wide-eyed Jarnell Stokes after Tennessee's 76-67 season-opening victory against Kennesaw State on Friday.
He'd better get used to it.
Without injured Jeronne Maymon (knee) on the blocks to keep teams honest, Stokes will be the focal point of opposing gameplans. Being the focal point equates to fending off helpside defenders.
The Vols are looking to make teams pay for such decisions.
Stokes — a bruting, lumbering 6-foot-8, 255-pound power forward — is more than just a bump-and-dump big man. Coach Cuonzo Martin has long raved of the sophomore's keen passing ability.
He showed it Friday.
As an extra defender or two swarmed, Stokes was quick to kick. That inside-out offense Martin spoke of in the preseason? This was it.
What makes Stokes such a good passer is his ability to read when to dish versus when to score. He allows defenders to sink before making the pass.
"I would like to take the credit for him being patient but he does that on his own," Martin said. "He does a good job of slowing down and making the right decisions. In most cases with the double team you have to feel it."
Stokes felt his way to five assists.
"That's what separates him from a lot of bigs," said guard Skylar McBee, who knocked down one of his four 3-pointers on a pass from Stokes. "He has that court vision. He knows he's going to get double-teamed and he looks to kick it out of there."
Stokes' prowess as a passer is unlikely to deter teams from doubling and tripling down. Look for it when the Vols head south for three games in four days at the Puerto Rico Tipoff starting Thursday.
The opening opponent, UNC Asheville, is anchored by 6-10 junior D.J. Cunningham, who sat out last season with a knee injury. Cunningham is considered one of the Big South Conference's best rebounders and shot blockers. He'll have help with Stokes.
In game two UT will face either Akron or Oklahoma State. Both have formidable frontlines.
The Zips boast 7-foot senior Zeke Marshall, the 2012 Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year and one of the nation's top shot blockers. The Cowboys will present athletes like Le'Bryan Nash, a NBA prospect, Kamari Murphy and Michael Cobbins, along with 6-11 Philip Jurick, a one-time UT enrollee.
The third game in Puerto Rico will come from a side of the bracket featuring N.C. State, Massachusetts, Providence and Penn State.
The key for Stokes, he says, is balancing his scoring with his penchant for passing.
On Friday, Stokes finished 5-of-7 from the field for 10 points. Seven shot attempts isn't enough. Maymon or no Maymon, Stokes needs to attack the rim, he said.
"It's a big different because knowing the guy is coming, you can't be too passive," he said. "You have to still impose your will as far as being a scorer so that they'll keep double-teaming you."
Stokes needn't worry about not being double-teamed.
Those flies will keep swarming.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn