The last piece of Tennessee’s 2013-14 men’s basketball puzzle has fallen into place.
It’s a familiar fit.
Jarnell Stokes, the Vols’ second-leading scorer (12.4 ppg) and leading rebounder (9.6 rpg) last season, announced Saturday morning he will return to Tennessee for his junior season. The Memphis native had mused over the option of declaring for the 2013 NBA draft, but will instead continue his college career.
Stokes’ decision came just before the NBA deadline to declare for the draft, which is approaching on Sunday.
"After considering entering the NBA draft, I have decided to return to Tennessee for my junior season," Stokes said in a school release. "After talking with my family I have decided to come back and I am excited to return to the Vols. I am looking forward to playing with Jeronne (Maymon), Jordan (McRae), Trae (Golden) and my other teammates again. I think we are ready for a big season, one that will make Vol Nation proud."
Neither NBADraft.net nor DraftExpress.com, two widely used mock draft websites, projected 6-foot-8, 270-pound forward as being selected in the 2013 draft. DraftExpress lists him as a mid-second-round pick in 2014 and ranks him as the 15th-best current college sophomore.
"I am excited that Jarnell is returning for his junior season," UT coach Cuonzo Martin said in the release. "I thought he had a great sophomore campaign. He did a tremendous job of improving throughout the season. He did a great job in terms of offensive rebounding. This is very exciting news for our team and the entire Tennessee family."
With Stokes back in the fold, UT will return 80.8 percent of its scoring and 79.2 of its rebounding next season. Jordan McRae, the Vols’ leading scorer last year with 15.7 points per game, also spurned the draft, announcing he’ll return to Tennessee on April 13.
That’s the good news for UT. The bad news is Stokes’ return leaves Martin one scholarship over the NCAA-mandated limit of 13 for next season. As a result, either one of the program’s nine returning scholarship players or one of its five incoming freshmen will not be in orange in 2013-14.
That said, the Vols will happily welcome back Stokes to a frontline that will already see the return of Jeronne Maymon, an All-SEC forward who missed all 2012-13 with a knee injury. In 50 career games at UT, including 47 starts, Stokes is averaging 11.4 points and 8.9 rebounds.
Maymon averaged 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds as a junior, before missing last season.
Almost identically, Stokes averaged 12.4 points and 9.6 rebounds as a sophomore. He earned All-SEC second-team recognition from both the league’s coaches and the media, having dominated portions of the second half of the year. Thirteen double-doubles were produced over the final 18 games.
Against SEC competition, Stokes averaged 13.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game last year. His 16 total double-doubles were the most by a UT player in a season since Bernard King posted 19 in 1976-77.
Arriving as a ballyhooed five-star recruit, Stokes enrolled at Tennessee on Jan. 11, 2012. He immediately helped right the ship of the Vols’ 2011-12 season, joining the roster midyear and helping power UT to a 10-5 finish to end the regular season.