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Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes warms up before an NCAA college basketball game

KNOXVILLE - The papers were printed and probably lying near the fax machine with a pen not too far away.

Jarnell Stokes couldn't bring himself to sign them.

"I kept telling myself, 'Give it another day, give it another day,'" the Tennessee forward told the Times Free Press inside the lobby of the Volunteers basketball program's offices Saturday morning.

After wrestling with the decision about his future and coming dangerously close to making official his entry into June's NBA draft, Stokes finally elected to return to Tennessee for his junior season.

A combination of advice from former Vol and budding NBA star Tobias Harris and the sight of a healthy Jeronne Maymon helped sway Stokes to remain in college instead of jumping into the draft, where he said projections had him going outside of the first round.

"I've been really going back and forth," Stokes said. "If I would have made an emotional decision after the season, I would have went ahead and left. That was my plan, but I met with coach [Cuonzo Martin] and talked to some people I trust, somebody like Tobias.

"I'll give you the advice he told me: 'I'm a first-round talent, so don't settle for the second round.' That spoke a lot, and then, we've been playing open gym right now, and Jeronne played for the first time yesterday. I was amazed at [how] he still can move and take over the game like he used to, so I think that'll relieve a lot of double teams and problems we had this year."

The 6-foot-8, 270-pound Memphis native averaged 13.1 points and 10.7 rebounds in SEC games as a sophomore, his first full season in college.

The former five-star recruit graduated high school early to enroll at Tennessee last January and scored nearly 10 points and grabbed more than seven boards per game as a freshman.

Still only 19 years old, Stokes struggled with his role last season before finally jumping on board with doing the dirty work and becoming a banger and rebounder.

Once he embraced that role, Stokes flourished despite never-ending double teams from opponents, who focused their defenses around trapping him with Maymon missing the entire season with a knee problem.

With the return of Maymon, leading scorer Jordan McRae, top-notch defender Josh Richardson and point guard Trae Golden and the arrival of five-star shooting guard Robert Hubbs, the Vols expect to compete for the SEC's top spot and snap a two-year NCAA tournament drought.

That's no problem for Stokes.

"My numbers may drop," he acknowledged, "but I don't think my stock will."

Martin's third team, though it currently stands one scholarship over the 13-player NCAA limit, should be his best one.

"I am excited that Jarnell is returning for his junior season," Martin said in the Tennessee release that came out an hour before Stokes met with the media. "I thought he had a great sophomore campaign. He did a tremendous job of improving throughout the season.

"He did a great job in terms of offensive rebounding. This is very exciting news for our team and the entire Tennessee family."

Stokes certainly will try to fix some of the flaws he showed this season. He needs to improve as a free-throw shooter (56.8 percent in his career), develop more variety in his repertoire of post moves and become a better defender.

Harris, who averaged 17 points and 8.5 rebounds in 27 games with the Orlando Magic after the Milwaukee Bucks traded him as a throw-in of the J.J. Redick trade, also told Stokes it's not about where he was picked, but rather the situation in which he's playing.

"I was confident in my decision," Stokes said. "I was planning on actually leaving because I felt like guys saying I can't shoot, well, I know I can shoot. Guys saying, 'You're short,' well, I have a 7-foot, 2-inch wingspan and I just have to work on other things.

"I was confident enough to go into workouts and show that, but at the end of the day, when you have to sign those papers and send it in, you don't want to risk your whole career on a couple of workouts, and that was [what] my decision was based on."

Contact Patrick Brown at or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at