Jarnell Stokes has found himself.
After soul-searching this off-season, putting in hours in the weight room and watching film, the sophomore center from Memphis, Tenn. is ready to show the SEC who he is.
“A lot of high school guys haven’t found themselves, but being in college this long, I feel like I’ve found myself,” Stokes said. “I love to bully guys in the post. It’s just something I love to do. I can shoot the ball and I can drive to the basket, but my strength is bullying guys.”
Last season, Stokes, who graduated from high school early and enrolled at UT for the spring semester, showed versatility and toughness as he held his own against some of the best the SEC had to offer.
I can shoot the ball and I can drive to the basket, but my strength is bullying guys. sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes
While most of his high school classmates were going through math classes and preparing for prom, Stokes was busy gaining one of the starting power forward positions for the Vols and working on making the transition into college life.
This season Stokes is preparing to take on a larger role in the post and credits the team's trip to Italy this summer as a big help in that process.
“I feel like I’ll be more assertive next year,” Stokes said. “Getting relationships with the guys and going to Italy and spending the offseason with those guys really helped. I feel like I was trying to fit in and now, knowing these guys better, I can call for the ball and go to work.”
Stokes thinks his game mirrored Carmelo Anthony, of the New York Knicks, throughout high school and he felt conflicted on how he needed to play to be most effective.
During the offseason, as the sophomore sought to find himself, the conflict disappeared and with that comes even higher expectations.
“I honestly expect to average a double-double on a bad night,” Stokes said. “Most importantly though, I want a win.”
With those increased expectations also comes recognition and Stokes thinks this team has potential to not only contend for an SEC title, but a shot to take home an SEC Championship.
I honestly expect to average a double-double on a bad night. Most importantly though, I want a win. sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes
“I feel like if Trae [Golden] has confidence in us winning the SEC then I have confidence in us,” said Stokes. “We have the players to do it, we just have to execute.”
When asked to comment on whether these accolades were deserved, Stokes was skeptical.
“(Laughing) […] I think I’ll plead the fifth on that one.”
Regardless of whether or not the preseason accolades are deserved, the Volunteers were picked to finish fourth in the SEC preseason polls - behind the Kentucky Wildcats, Florida Gators and Missouri Tigers.
If that prediction is going to be true, or even surpassed, Stokes will likely have played a large part in returning the Vols to SEC and NCAA relevance.