KNOXVILLE -- The decision was reached, the announcement was made and the papers have been signed.
Now the process of integrating five-star forward Jarnell Stokes into the Tennessee basketball team can began.
When exactly the 6-foot-8, 260-pound Stokes will move from Memphis to Knoxville, begin practicing with the Volunteers and be eligible to play in games still remains undefined. Once he arrives, though, it's another question as to how quickly Stokes adjusts and helps the Vols in the season's final two months. UT coach Cuonzo Martin said after the Vols' win against East Tennessee State on Friday that the approach is one day at a time.
"I've never heard of anything like this before," senior wing Cameron Tatum said. "This is the first time I've heard of anything like this, so it should be interesting. But we've got a great group of guys that's willing to work with him and get him ready for what's about to happen as far as the different level of play. We already know he's a physical dude, so we already know that he'll be more than happy to get down there and bang a little bit.
"We know he's a good player. We're going to bring him along the best way we can because we know he can help us."
That becomes the biggest question as Stokes begins his career. Martin certainly made a statement about his recruiting by landing a big-time player from the competitive Memphis hotbed, but both Stokes and the Vols are treading uncharted waters with the midseason enrollment and addition.
"We've talked about this for a long time," Martin said. "As far as if he plays, when he plays, the timetable, it's just how his body is conditioned. Is he ready to go? The most important thing is him being healthy and ready to play because he knows as well as I do that he has to fit in with the team.
"He has to fit in and understand what's going on. He's one of those guys that's willing to do it. He reached out and wanted every guy on the team's phone number so he could call the guys and be a part of it."
The TSSAA ruled Stokes ineligible to play his senior season for Southwind High School, where he transferred from Central. While that helped him decide to enroll early and aided UT's chances recruiting him, it also kept Stokes from playing live, five-on-five basketball. Martin said Stokes hasn't done that since the summer circuit of AAU tournaments.
"Now all of the sudden, you've playing at this elite level against this type of competition," Martin said. "It doesn't happen overnight."
Both parties certainly understand that. Jeronne Maymon and Kenny Hall are the entrenched frontcourt starters, and Renaldo Woolridge is playing well off the bench. How and where Stokes will fit in depends on a number of moving parts, but the Vols will help their new family member however they can.
"He's not competition because he's my teammate," Hall said. "In practice, that's another story. We're going to go to battle or whatever, but we're inviting him with open arms. I've given him my number and reached out to him just to try to make sure he fits in comfortably."
Said point guard Trae Golden, "He'll fit in perfectly. He's a good big man, he's going to continue to get better just like this team is and going against Kenny and Jeronne is going to help him. I think that he's excited to get here. We just can't wait for him to get here."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.