SEC Tourney Spotlight - Jarnell Stokes
By Chris Dortch
NASHVILLE — Jarnell Stokes has become the master of the one-handed rebound.
No, Tennessee’s massive sophomore forward isn’t bucking conventional wisdom and philosophy. Sometimes a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.
So it was with 4:30 to play in the Vols’ first-round SEC Tournament game against Mississippi State on Thursday. The Bulldogs of first-year coach Rick Ray may be down to their last six scholarship players after enduring a rash of injuries and dismissals this season, but they’re not quitters. And after trailing Tennessee by as many as 17 points in the second half, they mounted a comeback that made the score a bit too close for comfort for the Vols, who came to Nashville to pad their NCAA Tournament resume. With 4:30 to play, the lead slipped to 60-49 and State was gaining momentum by the second.
Something had to be done.
That’s where Stokes and his amazing one-hand rebound trick came in. When Tennessee’s Jordan McRae missed a free throw that would have converted a three-point play, Stokes held off his defender with one hand, claimed the rebound with the other and put the ball back in the basket. The Vols led 62-49 and seemed to draw momentum from the play, eventually cruising to a 69-53 win.
That rebound might have been surprising had Stokes not being doing it over and over the last couple of months.
“Obviously we always teach two-handed rebounds and jumping for it, but when you’re rebounding around guys, there’s no such thing as two-handed rebounds,” Tennessee assistant coach Kent Williams said. “You’ve just got to do whatever you can to get your hand on it.”
Stokes would agree with that.
“Sometimes, that’s the only way I can get them,” he said. “There’s usually a guy hanging on to my other arm. I just want to rebound the best way I can.”
Stokes struggled early in the season as he adjusted to constant double- and even triple-teaming. He put together three double-double games in non-conference play, but since SEC games began, he’s racked up 11 more, including a high of 18 rebounds against Alabama and 16 against Texas A&M.
“He’s strong,” Williams said. “And he’s doing such a better job of chasing the rebound. When he first got here he was rebounding everything close to him. Now that he’s going out of the way, he’s getting one hand on it and he’s snatching it. Sometimes he holds the defender off to get it, like you would do if you’re posting up a little bit.”
Strength and sheer size—Stokes is 6-foot-8 and 270 pounds with California Redwoods for legs—are part of the reason he can outmuscle a defender, or two or three, and still grab a rebound. But demeanor and attitude are just as important.
“He’s just really starting to figure out,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “He’s one of those guys I think growing up was a gentle giant, even though he’s not a soft kid by any stretch. Now he’s starting to realize his blueprint is being physical and being tough.”