Commentary

Jarnell Stokes earned his respect

His dad's tough love and his own self motivation have made Stokes one of the best PFs

Updated: August 31, 2011, 4:21 PM ET
By Dave Telep | ESPN Recruiting

When you are one of the princes of Memphis -- a city that loves its hoops -- like Jarnell Stokes is, the spotlight is constantly on you. However, it wasn't always like that for the No. 18 overall player in the 2012 class.

There was a time when Stokes actually thought he was the worst player in town. A big kid, but more gentle than he needed to be, others took advantage of his kindness in the lane.

[+] EnlargeStokes
Andrew Shurtleff for ESPN.comMemphis native Jarnell Stokes gets excited by all the love Memphis fans are giving him. But at the end of the day his commitment will be a business decision.

"When Jarnell was younger, he was more reserved around the kids and stuff," said Jarnell's dad, Willie Stokes. "They might push him around [on the court] and he wouldn't say anything. That ticked me off because he was stronger and better than they were. When that happened I'd come home and be tough on him."

Stokes' father, who went into the Navy out of high school, was indeed tough on his son.

"I used to come home crying at night and he pushed me hard, that was how it was growing up," said Jarnell, who values the "tough love" approach employed by his dad. "It was definitely different from a lot of people."

"I'd make him be physical with me when we played ball; I used to push him back to make him tougher," Willie Stokes said.

Eventually, Jarnell got his respect on the court and his dad was there to see it.

"It was seventh-grade AAU and his friend, who used to be bigger than him, was battling him in practice. The guy kept pushing Jarnell and tried to punk him," Willie Stokes said. "All of the sudden, Jarnell pushed him one time and he hit the floor. That's when everything started to change. He stopped deferring and everything turned for him."

One performance fed off the next. The years of high school ball began yielding impressive results. Then, last spring at the Real Deal in the Rock, Stokes had his breakout performance.

Jevonte Holmes, a coach with Memphis YOMCA and Stokes' trainer, had a front-row seat.

"Everyone said he was too undersized to play in the post but when we won the Real Deal in the Rock he dominated every player. He dominated his matchup," Holmes said. "They thought Kaleb Tarczewski would dominate him but Jarnell took him outside, then dominated him on the block. They went zone, Jarnell found a sweet spot from the short corner. By the time they came out in man again, [Tarczewski] had to come out and guard Jarnell and he knocked down jump shot after jump shot."

This season, Stokes is sliding over from Central High to Southwind. He had opted to transfer to Oak Hill Academy but had second thoughts. Though his destination was up for debate, his game isn't. A mixture of physicality, power and skill, Stokes is a load to deal with and once he embraced his body and role, the consistent performances followed. Stokes scrapped the notion of proving his perimeter worth and embraced his inner power forward.

"I feel like I learned to be able to run the floor better and rebound," Stokes said. "I used to be mad if I wasn't getting the ball and when I was mad, I'd stopped playing. I learned this summer from going to camps that when the guards don't pass the ball, rebound and be active. I also learned that I hate losing more than I love winning."

After a summer of high-profile second-place finishes, Stokes is ready to finish on a high note.

"[Memphis YOMCA] made it to three championship games and lost all of them," Stokes said. "Losing them and then losing the state championship [in high school], that's sticking with me for a while. This season I'm looking forward to another championship to push for."

Now that Jarnell's growing older, he doesn't require as much hands on guidance from his dad and he's become much more self motivated.

According to Holmes, there's a big part of Stokes that wants to be acknowledged as a great teammate, someone who can carry the load and be one of the regular guys at the same time. However, when it comes time to lay it down at night, he's a little touchy about sharing a room with a teammate.

"He's a student of the game," Holmes said. "A lot of people don't understand his daily routine. He gets up at 4:45 in the morning. He doesn't like to room with teammates. Not because he's not a great teammate. It's that a lot of kids don't sleep the way he sleeps and they don't have his schedule. He'd stay with me so he could get up at 5:30 a.m. and go work out. Sometimes we had to make him shut it down."

[+] EnlargeJosh Pastner
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireMemphis coach Josh Pastner has done all he can to land Jarnell Stokes, including being at all his games and showing up a half hour before game time.

His size, skills and desire to improve have colleges knocking down his door. However, Stokes hasn't publicly cut down his list; it's not time yet. He's still speaking with UCLA, Kentucky and Missouri. Connecticut, Arkansas, Memphis, Tennessee and Florida seem like safe bets to survive into the fall. It's unusual to hear a player use the term "wide open" at this stage in the process but Stokes doesn't shy from the term. For him, "wide open" means he's left open the door to be wooed.

"If another school came in and I was blown away, I'd consider them," Stokes said.

Although, there was a time when Tennessee was close to pulling the coup and getting Stokes committed.

"I wasn't going to commit early, but I knew that's where I wanted to go," Stokes said of his love affair with Bruce Pearl's Vols. "I used to love the way he played, I watched every one of his games. I wanted to be a more physical Tobias Harris."

And then it happened. Chaos broke loose in Knoxville, Pearl got fired and the Vols vanished from Stokes' list. They would re-appear but it took a whim.

"I messed around and answered one of their calls," Stokes said. "At first I wasn't picking up after Bruce Pearl left. Then I talked to [new coach Cuonzo Martin] and he's got NBA experience. I was blown away by what he knew."

Tennessee, once dead in the water, was back in the mix.

One gets the feeling that having been so close to committing to Tennessee and then seeing Pearl depart, Stokes and his family want to make sure he's got options should a situation like that arise again.

"He may commit later on this year, I think but I'm going to encourage him not to sign until next year," Willie Stokes said. "I've seen a lot of teams tell a player 'you're my guy' and then they go and get someone else in his spot. That's why I'm going to encourage him not to sign until the next [spring]."

Where Stokes will attend college is destined to be a topic for at least the next few months. Who helps him with the decision, as you might expect, is only one other person.

"I listen to everyone but when I seek advice, it'll just be my dad," Jarnell said. "He was there from Day 1, he's not trying to reap any benefits off me and I definitely trust my dad."

Tough love definitely worked for Jarnell, but his dad doesn't push him around anymore, like when he was a kid, on the court or in his decision making.

"I'm bigger than him now," Jarnell said. "All he can do is just talk to me now."

Dave Telep is the senior basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN.com. His college basketball scouting service is used by more than 225 colleges and numerous NBA teams. He can be reached at espndt@gmail.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.

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