KNOXVILLE – Just over a year ago Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes, now a sophomore, entered his career like no other Vol in ever had.
A consensus five-star prospect out of Memphis, Stokes departed for college a semester early after the TSSAA ruled him ineligible when he transferred from Central High to Southwind High.
He was ruled eligible by the NCAA soon after arriving in Knoxville and became one the youngest players in league history. The powerful 6-8, 270-pound forward had just turned 18 a few days before appearing in his first game against Kentucky on Jan. 14 of 2012.
Despite his sudden transition from preps to major college hoops, he had an instant impact. Stokes earned SEC All-Freshman honors while ranking second on the Vols in rebounding, field-goal percentage and third in scoring.
He helped the Vols win eight of their last nine contests last season after a slow start before his arrival.
But this season, with the Vols struggling to an 8-7 (0-3 SEC) record, Stokes numbers have gone down in some areas, while there has been marginal improvement in others.
Here’s a look at the raw statistical comparison between this year and last:
2012-13 (This season) Key cumulative stats:
2012 (Last season) Key cumulative stats:
Coach Cuonzo Martin was asked about Stokes’ progress – or lack there of – in his second season in Knoxville.
"I don't know if I necessarily agree [that Stokes hasn’t improved this season] from the standpoint that he works hard,” Martin said. “I think the misconception about a guy like Stokes, because of his physical stature, you are talking about a guy who is 6-8, 260, you automatically assume he is a low-post guy, where he is probably better at facing up and making plays. But he is a physical, strong guy and that is probably the best way for him to get baskets; around the rim, posting up and being physical. He is a good face up-guy, so I do not know if I agree with that.”
The numbers show almost negligible improvement in scoring and rebounding, while Stokes’ field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage, steals, blocks and turnovers are heading in the wrong direction.
He’s struggling to stay out of foul trouble as well. His numbers have been considerably lower in the last two games due to missing much large stretches with foul trouble.
Though progress from a freshman to sophomore season is expected, there are other circumstances to consider for Stokes. Fellow forward Jeronne Maymon, a preseason All-SEC candidate, is out for the year with a knee injury. That means more opportunities for Stokes, but also more attention from opposing defenses.
And as SEC play begins, teams are facing Stokes for the second or third time now. They’re developing a scouting report on him – something that was hard to do on a player who was in high school just weeks before his first SEC season lsat year.
But with Tennessee already needing to dig out of a hole after its 0-3 conference start, Stokes still has 15 game to prove that he’s making progress and to avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump” title.
He might need to be a touch selfish to get it done.
“What I have talked to him about all the time is demanding the ball more,” Martin said. “I think the next step for Jarnell is to demand the ball every time. He is a low- key kind of guy – he lets his actions speak for themselves and he is very vocal from that standpoint, but he needs to demand it more and I think he has it in him."
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga