Midseason addition creates a buzz, raises expectations for UT men's basketball

Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:43pm

Jarnell Stokes played just 17 minutes on Saturday but that was more than enough to go viral.

It turns out the 6-foot-8, 250-pound 18-year-old with the size 20 shoe already has a few admirers.

Not only did the University of Tennessee freshman receive a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 21,678 at Thompson-Boling Arena when he entered the Vols’ game against No. 2 Kentucky but he was also trending worldwide on Twitter.

“It felt different here, the atmosphere and the crowd. That’s something I'm going to have to get used to,” Stokes said on Saturday. “I was just playing for my team and the state of Tennessee. It was definitely different. There was a lot of adrenaline going, but that’s how I’ll continue to play and build off of that for the rest of the season.”

In his collegiate debut, Stokes came off the bench to score nine points, making 4-of-5 shots, grabbing four rebounds and committing three turnovers in a 65-62 loss.

Not a bad first game considering he played just six days after his first practice with the team. Stokes was a mid-term enrollee after he graduated early from Memphis’ Southwind High School in December.

When he signed a national letter-of-intent on Dec. 22 to play for the Vols, he became the first No. 1 recruit in the state to choose Tennessee. One of the nation’s top 20 prospects, Stokes picked the Vols over Kentucky, Connecticut, Florida and Arkansas.

He is also Tennessee’s first player from Memphis since White Station product Dane Bradshaw (2003-07).

Tennessee’s first-year coach, Cuonzo Martin, was pleased with Stokes’ performance, saying his big man didn’t look intimidated.

“He has been around that environment. He understands what is expected,” Martin said on Monday on the SEC coaches teleconference call. “The biggest adjustment is the conditioning part. Even though he did a lot of work with his high school team, I think the biggest key now is him getting up and down the court, the cuts, the banging, the moving, defending ball screens, rotating. I think that is more of an adjustment for him than anything. Once again, physically he is not only just big but also strong.”

Stokes might provide a big lift for a youthful Tennessee squad that has exceeded expectations through three games of SEC play.

The Volunteers (8-9, 1-2) began the conference schedule with an upset of then-No. 13 Florida before losing by four points at No. 18 Mississippi State and falling short against Kentucky.

Their schedule doesn’t get any easier over the next week. They travel to play a tough Georgia team at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. On Saturday, they’ll host No. 13 Connecticut a non-conference bout. Next Tuesday, Tennessee goes to Nashville for the first installment of its rivalry against Vanderbilt.

And while the Volunteers’ current resume is less than impressive, with the infusion of Stokes, one bystander believes Tennessee is destined for the postseason.

“I don't really care what their record is — [Tennessee] is an NCAA Tournament team,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Just win games now. Win the games you're supposed to win. That is an NCAA Tournament team.

"Jarnell Stokes makes them way better too."

2 Comments on this post:

By: Rasputin72 on 1/17/12 at 5:00

Tennessee will beat Vanderbilt (preseason#7) at least once this year. If they meet in the SEC tournament it will be a second victory.

This is so so sad!

By: Dore4Life on 1/18/12 at 9:55

Well, they came pretty close to beating UK the other day at home (of course, by pretty close I mean leading practically the whole game until the final minutes, one can read into that whatever they will) and they already beat Florida at home. They definitely are proving to be a tough out at home and far from as bad as everyone perceived them to be this year. Should be a good pair of games between VU and UTK. UTK might be able to pull an upset at TBA, particularly if VU doesn't play good defense/minimize turnovers/ or rebound.