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.