KNOXVILLE -- Jarnell Stokes stepped on the practice floor at Tennessee's Pratt Pavilion for the first time Monday afternoon.
When the Volunteers' big freshman forward will do the same in a game and how good he'll be when he does continue to be the program's biggest questions.
The Southeastern Conference cleared Stokes on Monday to begin playing in games, first-year UT coach Cuonzo Martin announced at his media luncheon inside Thompson-Boling Arena. The 6-foot-8 Memphis native's status now rests solely in Martin's hands.
Martin continued his stance on how soon he'll integrate Stokes into the Vols' rotation.
"It is a matter of when physically he is ready to play," the coach said. "He's so far removed from playing five-on-five contact, physical [basketball] -- running, jumping. When we feel he is ready to play, we will make that decision.
"He's been ready to play, but once again, it's my job as a coach to put him the best situation to be successful."
At the least, Stokes has the physical frame to be successful soon. He's listed at 250 pounds, though his toned upper body and stout lower body bring that weight into question. Stokes moved effortlessly during individual drills Monday and received considerable instruction from assistant coaches Jon Harris and Kent Williams.
Even new UT athletic director Dave Hart stopped by for Stokes' practice debut. During the brief periods of practice that were open to the media, Stokes was in the power forward position, though he could play center as well. Martin mentioned the possibility of Renaldo Woolridge, who is now starting at center, playing small forward during some rotations when Stokes is on the floor.
The Vols play Thursday night at 20th-ranked Mississippi State and host second-ranked Kentucky less than 48 hours later. Martin neither made it sound like Stokes would play in either game nor ruled it out.
"We brought him in with a couple of other guys to go over some of the terminology, some of the things that we do offensively and defensively," Martin said. "But it it's really one day at a time. We will really try and simplify things for him. The most important thing for him is to demand the basketball and play as hard as he can play, but we will never put him in situations where he's not successful.
"We will put him in situations where he won't have to remember a lot of plays early."
New Richardson role
Martin said he plans to use the same tweaked starting lineup that he used in Saturday's upset of Florida, so freshman Josh Richardson will make his second collegiate start Thursday night. The 6-foot-6 guard finished with seven points on a pair of half-opening baskets, but it's his defense that earned him a starting role.
"He's done it from day one as far as his approach," Martin said. "There was a spurt of maybe two weeks where he wasn't at the level he should have been -- playing hard, competing and defending -- but he continued to work and continued to compete. I don't think there's a question that he's earned it."
Jordan McRae, whom Richardson replaced, scored 10 points against the Gators and noticeably provided some vocal encouragement during individual drills Monday. Richardson is averaging 3.2 points in a little less than 15 minutes per game this season.
"I was kind of surprised at first, but after it settled in I was excited and had to get a lot more focused to start the game out well," he said. "I noticed that watching from the bench we'd always have trouble starting out on defense. I figured I could bring that to the lineup.
"[Martin] didn't really tell me anything specific what I was doing. He just said I'd been practicing well and playing as hard as I could."
Vol in the NBA
Martin opened his news conference by congratulating former Vol Tobias Harris on his team-high 15 points in the Milwaukee Bucks' loss at Phoenix on Sunday night.
It was Harris' second NBA game after the 2011 draft's 19th overall pick was slowed by extreme dehydration. The 6-9 forward scored four points in his professional debut Saturday night, hours after praising his former UT teammates' win on his Twitter account.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
Online: video of Jarnell Stokes practicing