Jarnell Stokes (6-8, 245) of Central High, practices with his AAU team, the Memphis YOMCA. The junior forward who's on his way to being the city's third McDonald's All-American in three years. He's the Tigers' No. 1 target for 2012.Photo by (File photo by Chris Desmond/Special to The Commercial Appeal)
KNOXVILLE -- Written on the practice plan for the Tennessee basketball team's practice Thursday was the emphasis of the day: "Don't go home until the job is done."
Assuming Cuonzo Martin followed the same advice he was giving his team in its preparations for tonight's game with East Tennessee State, the Volunteers' first-year coach slept very easily Thursday night.
Jarnell Stokes, a five-star power forward from Memphis, announced at a restaurant in the Memphis suburb of Collierville that he would play for Martin and the Vols. The other finalists for the 6-foot-8, 255-pound Stokes were Memphis, Florida, Arkansas and Kentucky. The 11th-rated player in Rivals.com's 2012 class has graduated from Southwind High School and could be eligible to play for UT next month.
"I have spent a lot of time in prayer about what to do, and I believe that the University of Tennessee is the right place for me," Stokes told ESPN. "I am excited about the future at Tennessee. I am going to work as hard as I can to fit in with my teammates and learn the system as quickly as I can to help the team."
Stokes' high school career ended after he transferred to Southwind from Memphis Central after his junior year. The TSSAA denied his appeal to be eligible to play his senior season for the Jaguars, so he elected to graduate early, enroll in college in January and play immediately.
Unlike Kentucky and the hometown Tigers, the Vols had an available scholarship for Stokes to use immediately. Stokes would be ineligible to play this season for Kentucky and Memphis because he took official visits to both schools, which made him a "recruited walk-on." Players who fall into that category are ineligible to play their first year.
"Congrats to the bro Jarnell Stokes," former UT star and current Milwaukee Bucks rookie Tobias Harris wrote on his Twitter account. "Tennessee is a great fit and program for him."
A source inside the UT program told the Times Free Press that Stokes would be eligible to begin practicing and playing in games on Jan. 11, when UT's spring-semester classes begin. Stokes would have to enroll at UT, and the NCAA would have to clear him before then. The Vols open January with games against UT-Chattanooga, Memphis and Florida before a road trip to 18th-ranked Mississippi State on Jan. 12.
Stokes would arrive on campus having to learn Martin's system and adjust to a new situation in Knoxville. Since he's not been playing in a structured team atmosphere since the summer with his AAU team, Stokes might have some ground to make up in terms of his conditioning.
His intense work ethic and dedication, however, is similar to Harris' and should help his adjustment.
"Stokes is a strong and physical power forward that is very productive in the post, especially along the baseline, where he scores through contact," ESPN's scouting report reads. "He is a tough rebounder on both ends and is a good low post defender. As his skills improve, so will his production."
Regardless of how much of an impact he has on the court this season, Stokes' announcement is Martin's first signature moment as UT's coach. Former UT coach Bruce Pearl had developed a strong relationship with Stokes, but his firing in March amid NCAA troubles appeared to douse the Vols' chances.
Martin's work over the last eight months paid off, though.
Stokes made an official visit to UT in October. He surprisingly arrived for an unofficial visit when the Vols lost to Pittsburgh on Dec. 3. Even UT's 3-6 start, which included losses to Oakland, Austin Peay and College of Charleston, wasn't enough to diminish the efforts from Martin and his staff.
UT hasn't signed a player from Memphis since Dane Bradshaw signed with the Vols out of White Station in 2003. The valuable Bradshaw was just a three-star prospect, however, making point guard Tony Harris in 1998 the last big-time recruit UT plucked out of Memphis.
"We walk by faith, not sight," Stokes told ESPN. "I am fortunate that I have great people surrounding me. All the adversity that I have been through has made me a better person."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...