A successful team has to be built on a solid foundation. None gets much more solid than 6-feet-8, 260-pound Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes, whose size 23 shoe, basketball skill and steady off-court influence are leaving a big footprint.
Stokes is the rock of the Tennessee Volunteer basketball team, the 11th seed facing the 2nd seed Michigan Wolverines tonight in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 in Indianapolis. The winner advances to the Elite Eight.
Stokes has been the quiet, steady type all along — just like quiet, steady head coach Cuonzo Martin likes.
“Both of them are intense competitors with calm exteriors,” Vols chaplain Roger Woods noted.
Stokes is tied for first in the nation in double doubles (22 games with double-digit rebounds and points), averaging 10.7 rebounds and 15.2 points, and he and fellow post player Jeronne Maymon (also 6-8, 260) are a double-wide mismatch inside.
A senior-laden team (starters Jordan McRae, Maymon and Antonio Barton), the tone is nevertheless set by the junior Stokes.
“He is quiet and respectful but everybody knows where Jarnell stands with his faith,” Woods said. “I believe it impacts the entire team. All those guys are growing and striving.”
None more than Jarnell. Former Vol post player Rob Murphy mixed it up with Stokes in practice every day during Stokes’ first two years at UT. Off the court, he saw a young man (17 when he played his first game for Tennessee) clearly working to honor God.
“Jarnell is a quiet guy, reserved, but he has definitely taken the steps to live a Christ-filled life,” said Murphy, who graduated in 2013 and is now athletic director and basketball coach at Concord Christian School in Knoxville. “He attends church consistently, and I can see his faith by how he lives his life day to day, how he deals with his girlfriend and the way he treats people around him. He has really invested in living a life that glorifies the Lord.”
Coach Martin is a big part of that effort. In Martin’s first phone call to Stokes, the coach spoke of his faith in God. “It was a very engaging conversation,” Stokes told Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter Mike Griffin in a video shortly after arriving at Tennessee in December 2011. “He said he worked hard but he said he worked hard because of God. I said to myself, ‘I need to check this situation out.'”
Stokes had been recruited from age 14 and had risen to the state’s top prospect. A shy young man, he said recruiting “was a long hard process. With prayer comes answers. In beginning, I was thinking ‘Cuonzo Martin? This guy from Missouri State? You serious?’ But I walk by faith, not by sight, and I thought Tennessee was the right fit.”
For Stokes, that meant mixing basketball and faith in God — and having a godly leader.
“Coach Martin makes it very clear that he is a Christian,” Murphy said. “He’s very up-front about his faith, and I think that has impacted Jarnell very much. Coach Martin is careful and smart about it — he has to be in a public institution. He gives players the option to leave before we have chapel, but we have them consistently. We have team prayer. The presence of the Lord is always around the program. Coach Martin brings glory to the Lord.”
Stokes’ faith has garnered attention of late as he openly — but briefly and with poise — voiced praise to God on nationally televised interviews after NCAA tournament games.
Click here to read more.
SOURCE: Baptist Press