KNOXVILLE — Jarnell Stokes openly acknowledges one of his basketball vices.
Tennessee's big forward is averaging a double-double this season, but he's struggled against taller, longer defenders at times during the Volunteers' 7-4 start to a season that began with high expectations.
In his search for a solution, Stokes has turned to watching some of the NBA's best power forwards -- specifically Minnesota's Kevin Love, Memphis' Zach Randolph and Indiana's David West -- to see how they attack taller defenders.
The answer may require Stokes expanding his range.
"Some games, it'll be like a 7-footer, and he totally took me out of my game as far as offensively," he said before Tennessee's practice at Pratt Pavilion on Saturday afternoon ahead of tonight's visit from Virginia. "I just want to know how these guys are able to do it. One of the big things is them being able to hit a shot.
"When they hit a shot, the defense has to honor that, and they face up a lot, but they also use their body and create angles, which is something I'm looking forward to doing in the future, also."
At 6-foot-8, Stokes is a tad undersized and lacks the explosiveness and length to play above the rim, and those attributes limit the junior when he faces opposing players 6-foot-10 or taller. He struggled against UTEP's big front line and had a couple of shots swatted by Jordan Vandenberg, North Carolina State's 7-foot-1 center.
"I wouldn't call it intimidated," third-year Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said. "I don't think he's afraid. I think he focuses more on those guys as opposed to playing the way he's capable of playing."
Still, Stokes is averaging 12.3 points on 48.6 percent shooting and an even 10 boards per game this season. In each of his last three games, Stokes has failed to make at least half his shots. He's averaging nearly four offensive rebounds per game this season, and the offensive glass is where he's most effective.
Martin wants Stokes to worry about himself and reminds his player to use his quickness advantage against bigger, slower defenders and use his physical style and impressive frame against longer, more athletic opponents.
Yet Stokes believes adding an outside jumper to his repertoire can help make him more difficult to defend. He made one and missed one in the win against Morehead State, which featured one 6-foot-10 player and another 6-foot-11 forward. The make from the elbow came on Tennessee's second possession of the game.
"That opened up a lot of stuff for us as a team," Stokes said. "I feel like if I'm able to hit mid-range shot and make guys come out and guard me, I'm much better facing up against big guys. I'm playing in their hands in the post.
"I think the mental side is just hitting the shot. I work on it so much. Come game time, I just have to make the defense pay for playing off me. From now on, If a guy's playing off me, I'm definitely going to take the shot. It worked out last game, not only for myself, but it opens up the court, period."
Martin said he'll live with Stokes taking those shots as long as they're within the flow of the game.
"Those are the shots he's shooting in practice, and now he has to carry that over consistently to the game," he said. "He can make that shot, but the key is when he's shooting the shot and shooting the shot in rhthym and with confidence. I think he's a guy that he has to be able to go inside-out and also go off the dribble, because that's one of his better strengths, as well."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.
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 ...
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