Mike Strange: Jarnell Stokes motivated to 'dominate more' at SEC tournament

Mike Strange

NASHVILLE — If Tennessee plans to hang around Bridgestone Arena long enough to leave an impression this week, the Vols, among other things, have to let the big dog eat.

Make that the big pup.

Sophomore Jarnell Stokes, two months past his 19th birthday, is one of the youngest players at the SEC basketball tournament, younger even than freshman teammate Derek Reese.

Youth, however, is not the first thing that comes to mind when Stokes walks in the room. Nor when he’s posting up on a basketball court.

What you notice is size and power. We’re talking about a 6-foot-8, 270-pound colossus with sneakers seemingly as big as some of the boats on the Cumberland River down at the end of Lower Broadway.

We’re talking about the guy then-LSU coach Trent Johnson last year dubbed “Wes Unseld Jr.” And that was when Stokes was still an 18-year-old freshman.

What officials saw when Stokes went for a rebound was, what? Tyrannosaurus Rex? Bodies will fly. There will be blood.

“He’s always been big,’’ UT coach Cuonzo Martin said Wednesday and not for the first time. “Let him be who he is.’’

Martin first raised the issue after a 62-56 loss at Ole Miss on Jan. 24. Stokes that night attempted three shots and spent much of the first half on the bench after two early fouls.

It was not an unusual predicament for Stokes during the first half of the season.

“Guys easily bounce off me,’’ Stokes said Wednesday in a Bridgestone hallway. “It’s something I can’t help.’’

But Martin’s plea to the SEC office apparently was heard.

“It was definitely a change,’’ Stokes said. “I’m able to play longer, get in a rhythm. The refs (haven’t been) calling ticky-tack fouls.

“It also helped a lot to know my coach had confidence in me.’’

The numbers confirm that there has been a change.

In the 17 games up through the Ole Miss loss, Stokes averaged 11.0 points, and 7.7 rebounds. He played an average of 26.2 minutes.

In the 13 games since Martin spoke up, Stokes averages 14.4 points, 11.9 rebounds and plays 30.8 minutes.

Martin said the timing of his plea for Stokes wasn’t just frustration at the Ole Miss game. Rather, Stokes had finally deserved his coach’s backing.

“When he started playing with a little more effort and intensity,’’ said Martin, “that’s when I said, ‘now let’s look at this.’

“When he wasn’t at the level he needed to be at, we didn’t have a case.’’

By now, Stokes, I would say, had a good case for first-team All-SEC honors. However, the league coaches didn’t agree.

In their vote, announced Tuesday, Stokes was second-team All-SEC rather than joining teammate Jordan McRae on the eight-man first team.

Without sounding whiny or brash, Stokes is at least a bit offended.

“I definitely think I should have been (first team),’’ he said, “leading the conference in rebounding, just having all the double-doubles, and dealing with the double-teams that a lot of guys don’t have to deal with.

“I guess I’ll just have to use that as fire, just try to dominate the game more. They should definitely reconsider things, if we win.’’

If not this week, next year. Tennessee’s big pup still has so much room to grow his game.

“Of 100 percent, he’s probably 75 percent,’’ said Martin. “I can only imagine when you see him a year from now. I can only imagine.’’

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.

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Comments » 8

underthehill writes:

Stokes..just past 19..intelligent with involved parents..he'll be back next year..and maybe the one after that..due to his age..

bbfn writes:

Would benefit this young man to show less arrogance and more maturity.

1volk-nowi-tall writes:

in response to bbfn:

Would benefit this young man to show less arrogance and more maturity.

Is arrogance when you think that you know something or when you think that your opinion matters more than someone else's? When you write "This young man..., you complicate the sentence by using the "more maturity" angle. Young men seldom show maturity. However this young man has shown a remarkable amount of maturity this season and even last year after joining this team after the first semester. He is constantly held, pushed(yes even at 280lbs) and hacked as he tries to play the game. I agree with Martin, players do bounce off of him. You and I would too if we came in contact with him. I also agree with Stokes that he should have been named to the 1st team SEC. Arrogance is in the eyes of the beholder i guess and IMHO this is an exceptional young man who has handled his role with the Vols in a positive way. Where would we be without him? He likely didn't make the 1st team because few coaches saw that two Vols deserved to be 1st team SEC.

Noogaorange writes:

in response to bbfn:

Would benefit this young man to show less arrogance and more maturity.

Good grief give the kid a break he's only 19.
GBO VFL17

Tucker31 writes:

“Guys easily bounce off me," Stokes said Wednesday in a Bridgestone hallway. “It’s something I can’t help.’’

Stokes is a mule!! If only McRae would come back next year & Maymon healthy, the possibilities would be endless. Maybe a better (and more disciplined) team than Pearl ever had.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to 1volk-nowi-tall:

Is arrogance when you think that you know something or when you think that your opinion matters more than someone else's? When you write "This young man..., you complicate the sentence by using the "more maturity" angle. Young men seldom show maturity. However this young man has shown a remarkable amount of maturity this season and even last year after joining this team after the first semester. He is constantly held, pushed(yes even at 280lbs) and hacked as he tries to play the game. I agree with Martin, players do bounce off of him. You and I would too if we came in contact with him. I also agree with Stokes that he should have been named to the 1st team SEC. Arrogance is in the eyes of the beholder i guess and IMHO this is an exceptional young man who has handled his role with the Vols in a positive way. Where would we be without him? He likely didn't make the 1st team because few coaches saw that two Vols deserved to be 1st team SEC.

Good post. I guess we just heard from a "new" troll. If we see more of him--God forbid!--we should be able to tell from the particular slant of his drivel whether or not he is a repackaged "old" troll or in fact a new though similarly disgusting specimen.

johnlg00 writes:

On topic, I think one main result of Martin's call to the league officials office was for the refs to be more alert to the "flops" Stokes' defenders used to try. He is so physically imposing that if he makes ANY apparent contact and the defender goes sharply back or down, it would be easy for anybody to assume that Stokes KNOCKED him back or down, so the flop was a low-risk/high-reward strategy. Now that the refs seem to actually look at the direction and force of the movement, they are more accurately determining whether Stokes was using his power to MOVE a defender as opposed to FIXING him in place in order to wedge off of him. At the same time, it seems that they are actually heeding the sound of the slaps when opponents try to chop him inside rather than assuming that, just because his arm didn't come off, he wasn't really hacked. For his part, Stokes has been doing far less of the lowering of shoulders, slinging of hips, and extending of arms that were the OTHER major causes of early foul trouble. As the learning process continues and his conditioning, trimness, and free-throw shooting improve, he will become more efficient, and next year, he could well soar past the mere 1st-team All-SEC level right into Player of the Year territory!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to johnlg00:

On topic, I think one main result of Martin's call to the league officials office was for the refs to be more alert to the "flops" Stokes' defenders used to try. He is so physically imposing that if he makes ANY apparent contact and the defender goes sharply back or down, it would be easy for anybody to assume that Stokes KNOCKED him back or down, so the flop was a low-risk/high-reward strategy. Now that the refs seem to actually look at the direction and force of the movement, they are more accurately determining whether Stokes was using his power to MOVE a defender as opposed to FIXING him in place in order to wedge off of him. At the same time, it seems that they are actually heeding the sound of the slaps when opponents try to chop him inside rather than assuming that, just because his arm didn't come off, he wasn't really hacked. For his part, Stokes has been doing far less of the lowering of shoulders, slinging of hips, and extending of arms that were the OTHER major causes of early foul trouble. As the learning process continues and his conditioning, trimness, and free-throw shooting improve, he will become more efficient, and next year, he could well soar past the mere 1st-team All-SEC level right into Player of the Year territory!

We should have five first team SEC next year, One freshman of the year, defensive player of the year and Coach of the year. Oh yea 6th man of the year also. We may fill the second team up as well.hehe besides POY

Seriously we should be good even if we lose a player or two. BUT we really want Stokes and McRae to stay.

Hurried post as I need to get back to SEC and ACC tournament.

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