Vols' Stokes answers critics by expanding his game

FILE -- In this March 20, 2013 file photo, Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes (5) works against Mercer forward Daniel Coursey in the NIT college basketball tournament in Knoxville, Tenn. Stokes received some brutally honest feedback when he considered entering the NBA Draft after his sophomore season. He took that criticism to heart during the offseason by losing weight and developing a more well-rounded game. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)

FILE -- In this March 20, 2013 file photo, Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes (5) works against Mercer forward Daniel Coursey in the NIT college basketball tournament in Knoxville, Tenn. Stokes received some brutally honest feedback when he considered entering the NBA Draft after his sophomore season. He took that criticism to heart during the offseason by losing weight and developing a more well-rounded game. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)

In this Oct. 2, 2013, photo Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes, left, takes part in a practice drill in Knoxville, Tenn. Stokes received some brutally honest feedback when he considered entering the NBA Draft after his sophomore season. He took that criticism to heart during the offseason by losing weight and developing a more well-rounded game.(AP Photo/Adam Lau, Knoxville News Sentinel)

In this Oct. 2, 2013, photo Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes, left, takes part in a practice drill in Knoxville, Tenn. Stokes received some brutally honest feedback when he considered entering the NBA Draft after his sophomore season. He took that criticism to heart during the offseason by losing weight and developing a more well-rounded game.(AP Photo/Adam Lau, Knoxville News Sentinel)

In this March 15, 2013, photo, Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes defends against Alabama's Devonta Pollard during the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament in Nashville, Tenn. Stokes received some brutally honest feedback when he considered entering the NBA Draft after his sophomore season. He took that criticism to heart during the offseason by losing weight and developing a more well-rounded game.(AP Photo/Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel)

In this March 15, 2013, photo, Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes defends against Alabama's Devonta Pollard during the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament in Nashville, Tenn. Stokes received some brutally honest feedback when he considered entering the NBA Draft after his sophomore season. He took that criticism to heart during the offseason by losing weight and developing a more well-rounded game.(AP Photo/Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes has expanded his game and reduced his frame after receiving some pointed criticism about his pro potential.

Stokes considered entering the draft after his sophomore season and got some brutally honest feedback from the NBA's Undergraduate Advisory Committee that inspired him to work harder than ever this offseason.

"That was a very humbling process," Stokes said. "I realized talking to those guys that you are what they see. If they don't think you can do this, regardless of word of mouth or what you did in high school, it doesn't matter. They expect you to be a winner. They draft winners."

Stokes averaged 12.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game last year to earn second-team all- Southeastern Conference honors, but that wasn't good enough to get Tennessee into the NCAA tournament. The 6-foot-8 forward learned that if he ever wanted to get drafted in the first round, he had plenty of work to do.

"It wasn't anything like you're too short to play in the NBA or you just don't have the skills," Stokes said. "They were basically saying you have to be able to run the floor better and find different ways to score, be able to show you can shoot the ball and improve my overall skills."

That was a hard lesson for Stokes, who signed with Tennessee as a consensus top-20 national recruit. He was viewed as a potential star from the moment he arrived on campus. Now he had to learn about all his potential shortcomings.

"It's always tough to hear that," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "But you have to embrace it, learn from it and move forward."

That's exactly what Stokes has done.

After weighing between 270 and 274 pounds last season, Stokes says he's down to 259 as he prepares for a junior season that starts Nov. 12 at Xavier. The difference is apparent on the floor.

"I really feel much lighter," Stokes said. "I feel like I can guard guards, something I never thought I'd be able to do. It helped me with confidence."

Stokes also developed into a more complete player. Stokes typically uses brute strength to overpower opposing frontcourt players. While representing USA Basketball and winning a gold medal this summer at the FIBA U19 World Championships in the Czech Republic, he noticed the European post players had finesse elements to their games.

Stokes said he has since added a 15-foot jumper and a left-handed and right-handed hook shot.

"You can't bully through everyone," Stokes said. "I've played against (Florida's) Patric Young. I play against Jeronne (Maymon) every day in practice. You can't bully everyone."

The presence of Maymon should give Stokes more freedom this season.

Maymon, a 6-8, 260-pound forward, earned second-team all-SEC honors in 2011-12 before redshirting last season with an injured left knee. His absence allowed opponents to focus on stopping Stokes, who spent the first part of the season adjusting to the extra attention.

Opponents can't double-team Stokes as much anymore.

"Jarnell (is) more comfortable this year," Maymon said. "He struggled a little bit earlier last year with the double teams and everything. This year he's going to be (facing) more one-on-one. He's really finishing a higher percentage of his shots through practices and open gyms."

Stokes has taken steps to make his game better, but he also must help make his team better. One of the complaints Stokes heard during the offseason was that he failed to get his team to the NCAA tournament.

He plans to spend this season showing NBA officials just how much he's taken their criticisms to heart.

"Now you have a hungry guy who wants to win and a guy who wants to play this game another 15 years," Stokes said.

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Comments » 3

johnlg00 writes:

As the great Scottish poet Robert Burns said, approximately, "Would to God the gift he give us to see ourselves as others see us." Almost any long-time observer of basketball could have told Jarnell many of the same things that he needed to improve on to get the most out of his considerable potential, but he had no real reason to accept that advice until he heard it from the people who could DECIDE whether or not he got a chance in the pros. It would seem that he HAS gotten the message and drawn the right conclusions. If he has and if his newly-acquired skills and habits carry over into the season, he and the Vols will shock the world.

bUTch__please writes:

Passion and pride in Jarnell for developing his game and demonstrating his eagerness by playing to win games is a huge key to the success of this young man.

This team is putting together once-in-a-lifetime elements...

...Stokes out to prove he can do it

...Maymon bringing a years worth of hunger to the court.

...McRae taking another step up becoming unstoppable.

...Barton, X-factor, a Senior true point with defensive chops and ice water in his veins dropping like manna from the sky.

This could be an epic year.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to bUTch__please:

Passion and pride in Jarnell for developing his game and demonstrating his eagerness by playing to win games is a huge key to the success of this young man.

This team is putting together once-in-a-lifetime elements...

...Stokes out to prove he can do it

...Maymon bringing a years worth of hunger to the court.

...McRae taking another step up becoming unstoppable.

...Barton, X-factor, a Senior true point with defensive chops and ice water in his veins dropping like manna from the sky.

This could be an epic year.

The thing is, you could go right down the entire Vol roster in listing all the ways in which all the players have improved or brought new talent and energy into the program. It will be a major test of CCM's coaching ability and future to see if he can bring all this potential into fruition. I will be astonished if the Vols are not as good as any team in the country by mid-season. And arguably the best thing about this is that much of the rest of the basketball world seems not to know what is about to happen in K'ville this year. The basketVols should be one of the great national stories of this whole season.

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