Tennessee has scheduled a press conference for 1:00 PM ET on Friday with Jarnell Stokes. The Vol big man returned to school this time last year, but according to Gary Parrish he'll be making his way to the NBA this time around.
DraftExpress has Stokes as a mid-second round pick in their latest projection, which seems to be the most popular response for him. If he (or Jordan McRae) is selected they would join a very small club: since Allan Houston was taken with the 11th pick of the 1993 NBA Draft, the only Vols selected have been Steve Hamer in the second round of 1996, Marcus Haislip (1st) and Vincent Yarbrough (2nd) in 2002, and Tobias Harris with the 19th pick in 2011. CJ Watson has certainly found a role coming up out of the D-League, and Scotty Hopson just signed a contract with Cleveland, but the draft has been mostly empty for the Vols.
As for the returning talent in Knoxville, Stokes' presumed absence would leave Tennessee with a gaping hole in its post game, one the Vols might hope to fill with Tennessee State transfer MJ Rhett. Senior-to-be Josh Richardson would be the unquestioned go-to guy, while five star sophomore Robert Hubbs would see his first real action after missing most of this season with shoulder surgery. He'll be joined by part-time starter sophomore Darius Thompson in the starting lineup. The Vols have quality experience on the bench with Armani Moore and Derek Reese, and Tennessee could certainly elect to start either of them next year in essentially a four guard look. But that fifth name, if not Stokes or Rhett, is completely up in the air. AJ Davis played very little as the season wore on, Pops Ndiyae has no offensive game we've seen yet, and it's a tall order to ask incoming three star freshmen to step right in and play.
Stokes would leave a huge hole for next year and his presence was a huge part of Tennessee's identity with toughness in the interior and a strong rebounding presence. Jarnell battled Kentucky's Julius Randle for the national lead in double-doubles all season. His size 20 shoes gave Vol fans something to be excited about for two and a half years, his signing the first big positive for Cuonzo Martin and his play certainly backed up his five star rating. By the end of his career he was handling double and even triple teams with great frequency and incredible ease, and at times does things a man of his size shouldn't be able to do with out-of-nowhere athleticism going to the basket.
There are questions about his game being NBA-level, sure, but he also didn't really get a chance to shoot the 15 foot jump shots that could put him on the floor. His strong play in the NCAA Tournament should help someone take a chance on him in the second round and give him a chance to join CJ and Tobias in a growing list of Vols in the NBA.
If the report is true, best of luck to Jarnell for his future, and thanks for all your hard work and great play in Knoxville, helping the Vols get back to the Sweet 16 and move Tennessee Basketball forward.