Cuonzo strikes gold

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The Cuonzo Martin era of Tennessee basketball just took a quantum leap — not on the floor but on the recruiting trail.

At 6:30 Central Time the first-year Vol head man received a public commitment from one of America's premier prospects, Memphis native Jarnell Stokes. rates the 6-foot-8, 245-pounder a 5-star recruit, the No. 17 player nationally and the No. 3 power forward prospect.

Best of all, Stokes will be eligible to play right away. When the TSSAA ruled him ineligible after he transferred from Central High School to Southwind High School earlier this year, he spent the past few months finishing up his diploma requirements so he could enroll in college at mid-term and begin playing immediately.

How much can Stokes' availability help a 2011-12 Vol squad that is struggling along with a 4-6 record? Plenty.

"Stokes is the type of recruit that can make an immediate impact on the floor, which is exactly what Tennessee needs," recruiting analyst Evan Daniels told InsideTennessee. "The Vols have available playing time in the post, and he's a guy that could be effective from the jump from a scoring and rebounding standpoint."

Brian Snow, national recruiting analyst for, calls Stokes "a program changer" but says the young man's impact will be felt far beyond this season's won-lost record.

"Jarnell is one of our top players in the country, a guy who can play either center or power forward depending on the system," Snow told InsideTennessee. "He'll give Tennessee an immediate-impact guy who can either score down low or control the glass. Most importantly, he sets the tone recruiting-wise for Cuonzo Martin — landing his first big-time recruit, especially from the city of Memphis."

Stokes averaged 17.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per game for Central High in 2010-11 but really took his game to the next level on the AAU circuit last summer. He was so impressive, in fact, that he jumped from Scout's No. 33 prospect to No. 18 in one evaluation period.

"Over the past year Stokes has really improved his ability to score on the low block," Daniels said. "He has a nice set of hands and good scoring touch around the rim. He's also capable of stepping out and knocking down 20-foot jump shots.

"Scoring Jarnell Stokes is a big deal. Getting this type of player, especially at this point in the season, is a major deal."

Stokes played for Memphis YOMCA last summer, helping lead the team to a runnerup finish in the AAU national championships. His YOMCA coach, Jevonte Holmes, previously helped fine-tune Washington Wizards guard Lester Hudson and University of Memphis junior forward Ferrakohn Hall. characterizes Stokes this way:

"A hard playing post prospect, Stokes is a guy that can get things done in the paint. Rebounding-wise, he zones in on his area and locks it up. He's a tough 6-foot-8, 245-pound big man that doesn't mind mixing it up and can finish through contact around the basket. He needs to continue to develop his post moves, but he finds ways to be effective around the rim."

Tennessee landed Scout's No. 1 power forward prospect last year, Tobias Harris, who promptly averaged 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in a spectacular freshman season. Whether Stokes can have similar impact in Year One remains to be seen. After all, he missed his senior year of high school ball. You have to go back several years to find a similar situation involving a heralded basketball recruit.

"The last one to do it was Bill Walker at Kansas State about five years ago," Snow recalled. "He was a top-10 recruit who was deemed ineligible as a high school senior. He graduated early and enrolled at mid-term at Kansas State, and played the rest of the season."

Asked how Walker performed after jumping from high school to college in a matter of weeks, Snow replied: "He wasn't unbeatable that first season (torn ACL after six games) but he had a solid year, then came back for a second year, when he was very good."

Stokes' other finalists were Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida and Memphis. Tennessee visits Memphis Jan. 4 and hosts Florida Jan. 7 but Stokes is unlikely to be eligible that quickly, since he must be approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse. Spring semester classes begin Jan. 11, so he might be available in time for Tennessee's Jan. 12 game at Mississippi State or its Jan. 14 home game against Kentucky.

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