The nation's 11th overall player according to Rivals has chosen to play his college ball for Cuonzo Martin and the University of Tennessee. Jarnell Stokes, a 6'8" 255 lbs forward from Memphis, committed to the Volunteer Basketball program tonight and will enroll in January, eligible to play as soon as classes begin for the spring semester.
How good is this news?
- Tennessee beat Memphis, Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, and UConn to get him. His situation was unique, being ruled ineligible by TSSAA because of a transfer, thus making him a potential instant impact player for any team this season. But for the Vols to go head-to-head with the SEC and nation's elite and win? That's all kinds of impressive.
- Stokes is the first elite prospect the Vols have landed from the city of Memphis since Tony Harris. There have been Memphis-area players like Wayne Chism. J.P. Prince and Scooter McFadgon who transferred in. And we all loved what Dane Bradshaw did. But not since Kevin O'Neill landed Harris almost fifteen years ago has Tennessee gone after the best player in the city and won.
- This is a huge win for Cuonzo Martin. Even before he puts on a jersey, the signing of Stokes gives instant and serious credibility to Martin's tenure at Tennessee. We were all worried that without Pearl and with the dark cloud that surrounded the program after his absence, the Vols wouldn't be nationally relevant again for a long time. Instead, Martin followed up Pearl's initial recruitment and sealed the deal, by all accounts based most strongly on his personal relationship with Stokes and his father. Tobias Harris was ranked slightly higher on a national level last season, but this one feels so very much bigger because of all the circumstances surrounding UT Basketball right now.
- How soon could he play? We shouldn't kid ourselves here - though one player can make a huge difference in basketball, it might not be realistic to think of Stokes coming in brand new in January and becoming an instant impact player with this team. It's not at all out of the realm of possibilities for the Vols to redshirt him. He's also incredibly similar to Jeronne Maymon (Mike Griffith earlier today called him "Maymon with a jumper"), and if neither can play the five, it would fundamentally change UT's team to put Maymon, Stokes, and Hall on the floor at the same time. Could Stokes start/finish the year as Maymon's backup? Sure. But whether he plays a bunch of minutes or just redshirts this season, Stokes brings instant impact to the Tennessee program.
It's been all bad news around Knoxville for a while now. But this? This is good news for the present and the future. Tennessee Basketball and Cuonzo Martin made a huge statement tonight, and through Jarnell Stokes, the program can continue to move forward.
Welcome to the family, Jarnell. Go Vols.