Self-imposed exiles scattered from Knoxville to various dots on the map this summer.
Tennessee basketball got around. Jarnell Stokes found himself in Prague, the capital of Czech Republic and home to 1.3 million strangers. Josh Richardson traveled to Jamaica, but not for the beaches. Armani Moore jetted to the Dominican Republic, but not for the shores. Derek Reese landed in China and represented a home country that’s not actually his home country.
They all found their way back. Tennessee’s fall semester began this week and all the above returned as travel guides. On Saturday, they and the rest of the Vols spent the morning at Farragut High School, playing alongside children and young adults with Down syndrome at the annual Hoops for Hope fundraiser.
In recounting their summer comings and goings, Stokes, Richardson and Moore all detailed various trips with differing agendas. Reese wasn’t available to tell his tale. He was back on campus working with the UT student committee.
Stokes went all the way to Prague just to be yelled at by another SEC coach. A year after starring for the U.S. Under-18 National Team in Brazil, Stokes joined the U.S. Men’s Junior National Team for the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer.
Both teams were coached by Florida’s Billy Donovan.
“Since he knows me more, he was harder on me this year,” Stokes said Saturday. “Last year I thought he was nice. This year he was all about business. He pushed me — pushed me hard every play.”
Facing Brazil, Stokes saw what life might be like had he committed to Florida instead of UT. The Americans beat Brazil by 25 and Stokes scored the game’s first five points. It was a good day, all and all, except Stokes, a 6-foot-8 brick with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, had just three rebounds in 17 minutes.
“He basically called me out in the room and went off,” Stokes said, laughing in remembrance and adding, “He cussed a lot, too.”
It all paid off. The U.S. cruised to a 9-0 record and the gold medal. Stokes started each game and averaged 7.2 points and 12.7 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game.
“Anytime you’re able to play for Team USA is a surreal experience,” said Stokes, who looks trimmer and says he’s down to 262 pounds. “I lost the weight I needed to lose,” he said.
Richardson spent 12 days in Jamaica with Athletes in Action, a Christian ministry. He visited orphanages. He discussed faith. He did service.
“It was a good reminder just to be thankful again,” said Richardson, whose mother, Alice, is an active ordained Baptist minister. “The parts of Jamaica where we went, it’s rough. A lot of the bad parts of America don’t even compare to down there.”
Last summer Richardson traveled to Poland and Germany with Athletes in Action. This year’s team went 3-2 as Richardson averaged 11.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.
“It (the service trip) was a lot more involved than last year,” said Richardson, junior guard at Tennessee. “Last year we got into the Word a lot, but we didn’t really get to do any work in our environment. We did that this time.”
Traveling to the Dominican Republic, Moore learned the realities of what can hide behind advertising’s curtain.
“When I thought of the Dominican Republic, I didn’t think of the rough life,” the sophomore guard said. “When you see it on TV — you know, ‘Come visit the Dominican Republic’ — they only show the nice side. You don’t see the hard side.”
Moore spent his time on the hard side. The Georgia native volunteered to join a team sponsored by SCORE International, a sports ministry founded by former Tennessee Temple University basketball coach Ron Bishop, and traveled to the island in late May.
Basketball was only a minor item on the agenda.
“We did more community service than anything else,” Moore said.
He and his teammates filled and hand-delivered care packages. They visited villages, talking and meeting with the locals. They played with children.
“People really appreciated what we were trying to do,” Moore said. “Most of them didn’t have food or if they did, they didn’t have a way to cook it. They were very thankful. It was a great experience.”
As for Reese, he spent a second straight summer playing for the Puerto Rican National Team, even though he grew up in Florida. His grandparents, Anselmo and Irma Montanez, were born in Puerto Rico, which makes their grandson eligible to don the other red, white and blue.
Thus, Reese traveled with Puerto Rico’s Men’s National B Team to the 2013 FIBA Stankovic Continental Champions Cup in China. The team went 3-6 in the tournament as Reese averaged 1.7 points and 2.0 rebounds and appeared in all nine games, including two starts.