Triumphant return

InsideTennessee gives you the best coverage available of Tennessee basketball. Sign in or subscribe now to read the latest on a Volunteer standout.

Tennessee basketball player Jarnell Stokes returned from representing the U.S. in Brazil with the pride of a patriot and the mindset of a gravedigger.

"I can bury guys better," he said of the advances he made during the recent FIBA Under-18 Championships. "I could've done that a lot better last year. I came in thinking I wanted to take jump shots and be real pretty. I still work on those things but I can bury guys now. That's how I did a lot of my scoring on the USA team."

Basically, Stokes "buried" opponents by using his 6-foot-8, 270-pound frame and brute strength to overpower them on his way to making layups and dunks.

"It was a lot easy buckets," he said with a smile. "Sometimes I buried 'em early — before I'd catch the ball having 'em already sealed."

Stokes believes his experience in Brazil will make him a much better player as a Vol sophomore this winter than he was as a freshman in 2011-12.

"It gives me a lot more confidence," he said. "Being able to say you was on the USA team means a lot. Coming back here I'm a lot more confident and more comfortable with my teammates. I'm not the freshman anymore."

Still, attending the USA tryout camp in Colorado Springs was an eye-opener. The altitude made running the floor especially challenging for a guy carrying 270 pounds. Team USA head coach Billy Donovan, who has won two national titles at Florida, questioned Stokes' stamina.

"He said I have all the skills that most big men don't have — the work ethic to work on my jump shot — but the one thing I'm missing is being in great shape," Stokes recalled. "That's one thing I plan on addressing this offseason."

He lost some weight in Brazil — not because he did more conditioning than usual but because he did less eating than usual. Describing the food as "horrible," he added: "The place where we were was an underdeveloped country, so there was no McDonald's or any American food."

Still, the tour was an unforgettable experience for the massive Memphis native. Taking the floor with USA emblazoned across his chest, he said, was "an experience a kid always dreams of ... being able to represent his country."

As the only college player on America's Under-18 team, Stokes was more advanced, physically and mentally, than his high school teammates.

"It's crazy how you can leave the SEC (playing against 20- and 21-year-olds) and come back to play with your age group," he said. "I had a big advantage over those guys. It really showed on the court. A lot of concepts Coach (Donovan) threw in, I already knew."

Stokes was so far ahead of his teammates mentally that he wound up mentoring some of them.

"I was definitely the leader of the team ... or one of the leaders of the team," he said, subsequently adding: "Billy Donovan didn't even have me go through walk-throughs because I knew basically everything he was throwing at the guys. He really had me teaching it to guys on the sidelines."

Stokes said he'd love to play for Team USA's under-19 team next year and the U.S. Olympic team in 2016, adding: "I couldn't imagine turning the Olympics down ... ever."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories