On Thursday night, Tennessee landed 5-star power forward Jarnell Stokes, who is eligible to play immediately after spring classes begin on January 11th. What a Christmas present for Vols fans, who have suffered through one of the worst athletic years in school history.
Cuonzo Martin's tenure has begun less than impressively with a 4-6 record, which includes a loss to Austin Peay. As the Vols prepare to enter the SEC slate, Stokes looks to help the Vols make an NCAA tournament run.
Post-play by Jeronne Maymon and Kenny Hall (mostly Maymon) has been both the Vols' strongest and weakest points this season. The strong parts have been through Maymon's 32-point, 20-rebound performance against Memphis, while during bad losses Hall has gotten into foul trouble and Maymon struggled to find his game.
Stokes is an NBA talent and his ability will become transparent this season, whether or not he sees maximum playing time. Maymon has the chance to be great, game in and game out, but is sputtery and lacks stability when the guards aren't firing.
One of the best aspects of Stokes' game is getting to the rim—and protecting it. Martin wants a team that can play inside out, and that will help Stokes be more than merely a role player this year.
The only pure scorer on this team is Jordan McRae, who doesn't have a game developed enough to be consistent. He will ignite with 25 in two straight games, but then fall off with only two points the next game.
Stokes is one of the top scorers in the nation and is as likely to dominate the rim as he is to light it up from deep. The team has struggled to put points on the board in their losses, and this highly-touted addition could spark a turnaround.
Cuonzo Martin isn't the conventional coach at this level, and he's been making that clear both on the court and on the recruiting trail. The fact that Stokes bought into Martin's system is testament, considering he chose the Vols over historic programs such as Kentucky, Memphis and Connecticut.
Martin will demand the best of Jarnell, and if Jarnell buys in, he could emerge as a lottery pick in the 2013 NBA Draft (he has to play through the 2012-13 season).
This team is full of young players, and many freshman are seeing increased time. The team only has two seniors, and guards Trae Golden and Jordan McRae are struggling with leading the team consistently.
Look at the freshmen that Kentucky is stocked with each year. The confidence and leadership they produce is what Stokes will have, and this half-season with the team will help him to be more of a leader next season as well.
It's all Cuonzo Martin talks about in his postgame presser. Defense, defense, defense. And Stokes is going to be playing his best defense, or he'll be riding the bench.
Martin saw something in Stokes that he knew would be worth getting, and considering Martin coaches strictly on defense and "letting the offense run itself," he has a feeling that Jarnell will add to their defensive strength.
I believe this move changes the Vols from a sub-.500 team to an NCAA Tournament sleeper.