Bully ball

You won't find better coverage of UT sports than right here at InsideTennessee.com. Check out this story on a talented member of the Basketball Vols.

At 6-feet-8 and 270 pounds, Jarnell Stokes looked like a bully as a freshman basketball player for Tennessee last winter. This year he vows to play like one.

While representing the U.S. in the FIBA Americas Under-18 Championships last June, Stokes discovered that using his heft to overwhelm smaller opponents can be downright enjoyable.

"I found out that I like bullying guys in the post. That's big for me," he said recently. "In high school a lot of guys might want to bring the court and shoot a couple of 3s. My strength is bullying guys in the post. You will see me bring the ball out some, maybe make a couple of drives to the rim, shoot a 3 here and there because I've been working on that, but I found that I love to bully guys in the post."

Stokes did some bullying as a Vol rookie last winter. Joining the team at mid-term, he averaged 9.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game en route to Freshman All-SEC recognition. He stepped up his game in the FIBA event, averaging 14.0 points and 5.6 rebounds, despite playing just 20.2 minutes per game. Routinely overpowering foes for dunks and layups, he shot a sizzling 68.9 percent from the floor.

A five-star recruit coming out of Memphis Southwind High School, Stokes was seen as the savior of Tennessee's program by some last January. Still, he says the pressure on him is even greater this year because the expectations are greater.

"I think there was definitely pressure in the situation (last winter) but Coach Martin and my teammates helped me out as far as walking me through plays and not putting any stress on me," he recalled. "When I missed assignments they weren't too tough on me but they still got on me."

Now that he has a regular season and an offseason under his belt, Stokes finds that the coaches have removed the kid gloves.

"I think this year they get on me a lot more than they did last year because they expect me to know a lot more," he said. "I really think it's more pressure now than there was last year because the expectations rose."

The expectations may be higher but Stokes should be able to meet them. He has a lot more help this season. With Kenny Hall suspended for the season's final nine games and freshman Yemi Makanjuola still rough around the edges, Stokes and Jeronne Maymon were pretty much the only post players Tennessee had. Now that Hall is back and Makanjuola is markedly better, the Vols have tremendous depth on the inside.

"It definitely should benefit us," Stokes conceded. "I really think having a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things in different areas is very helpful. Jeronne is very mobile, he's a guy who can rebound, can score the ball. All of our bigs can score the ball. Kenny can hit the shot. He's also very long and thin. Yemi is very physical, and that will help us a lot, too."

Jon Harris, who coaches Vol big men, is pleased with his group.

"We've got great depth; we really do," he said. "You're going to see some interesting lineups this year. Kenny, Jeronne and Jarnell can play both spots, 4 or 5, so you'll see some interesting combinations with those guys because we can move 'em around."

The fact Stokes and Maymon have worked in tandem for a season should create improved chemistry for 2012-13.

"They have a comfort level with our system," Harris said. "They know what we expect, from an offensive and defensive standpoint. Jarnell has some confidence now that he had success last year. Obviously, he knows what to expect from the level of competition, and the confidence from that alone will really help him."

Stokes concedes the point. He now has the confidence in himself and the comfort level with his teammates to fully exploit his bulk and brute strength.

"That means a lot, just being comfortable," he said. "That means I have the power to go out and go for 20 points and 20 rebounds and I have the power to ask for the ball when I have a weaker defender on me. Last year I didn't really have the relationship with my teammates to do that.

"I think I'll be more of a force."

Let the bullying begin.

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