KNOXVILLE -- Jarnell Stokes announced early Friday afternoon that he will forego his senior season at Tennessee and instead enter the NBA draft.
As a junior, the 6-foot-8 forward earned All-SEC honors by averaging 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game for the Volunteers, who turned a disappointing regular season into a NCAA tournament berth and a run to the Sweet 16.
Stokes flirted with entering the NBA draft following his sophomore season, and he said during a media availability at Pratt Pavilion he always felt like he was ready to play at the next level.
"I want to thank Tennessee for making these last three years so special," he said. "I feel like I definitely grew up and became a man here. I'll always be a Vol for Life."
Stokes joined the Vols midway through the 2011-12 season after graduating from high school a semester early since he was ineligible to play basketball after transferring following his junior year.
He averaged 9.6 points and 7.4 rebounds in 17 games when he still should have been in high school, and the former five-star recruit followed up a solid debut season by averaging 12.4 and 9.6 as a sophomore.
Stokes took another step this season by tying Tennessee legend Bernard King's single-season record with 22 double-doubles, the second-most in the country behind Kentucky freshman Julius Randle.
In the Vols' four NCAA tournament games, Stokes averaged 18 points and 12.8 boards.
"I always felt like I was ready, and I always felt like I was better than what some people said I was," Stokes said. "I always felt like I can do things that people said I couldn't, and that definitely gave me motivation.
Stokes said he told Vols coach Cuonzo Martin a couple of days after Tennessee's season-ending loss to Michigan -- a game that ended when Stokes was whistled for an iffy charge call with the Vols down 72-71 and less than 10 seconds left -- he was unsure of his choice.
On Tuesday, Stokes told Martin he was confidently ready to enter the draft.
Stokes's departure means the Vols will be very thin in the post next season. Tennessee will lose senior starters Jordan McRae, Jeronne Maymon and Antonio Barton, too. That quartet combined to average 51 points and 24.4 rebounds per game this season.
Josh Richardson, who averaged 10.3 points for the season and scored 77 points in Tennessee's NCAA tournament run, will be the Vols' leading returning scorer and vocal leader next season.
More coverage online and in Saturday's Times Free Press.