Jarnell Stokes: Recalling Golden Memories
Colorado Springs, Colo. • Jan. 28, 2013
Historically USA Basketball U18 National Teams have been comprised of rising college freshmen and high school seniors, with the exception of the 1990 squad. However, the 2012 USA Basketball Men’s U18 National Team roster featured one athlete who already had 17 NCAA Division I games under his belt.
Jarnell Stokes, a 6-8 forward from Memphis, Tenn., graduated early with honors from Southwind High School in December 2011 and signed to play for the University of Tennessee on Dec. 23. If anyone doubted Stokes was ready for college hoops, he made a statement in his first game against then-No. 2 Kentucky. Stokes checked in, hit his first four field goal attempts and finished with nine points, four boards and an assist in 17 minutes. He went on to see 14 starts in 17 games, while averaging 9.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
Stokes, who played at Southwind with 2012 USA U17 World Championship Team member Jonathan Williams, arrived in Colorado Springs, Colo., for the 2012 USA U18 National Team training camp and quickly impressed everyone in the gym not only with his ability, but for his knowledge of the game that was gained while playing in one of the top conferences in the country.
The 2012 Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team selection was named to the 2012 U18 team that traveled to Sao Sebastiáo do Paraiso, Brazil. Stokes started all five games as the U.S. team rolled to a perfect 5-0 mark, captured the FIBA Americas U18 Championship gold medal and qualified USA Basketball for the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship.
As the oldest and most experienced player on the team, Stokes was a natural leader, with teammates querying him on subjects ranging from college life to basketball tips. He led on the court as well, averaging USA second-bests of 14.0 ppg. and 5.6 rpg., while shooting a sizzling 68.9 percent (31-45 FGs) from the field.
After winning the gold medal with an 81-56 victory over host Brazil, fans swarmed the team hoping to get a souvenir from the North Americans. Fans clamored for USA Basketball T-shirts, jerseys, shorts, even socks. Nothing was off limits, and the U.S. felt like rock stars. It’s something that has happened all over the world to various USA Basketball teams, and it’s always amazing to experience.
“I was shocked how much in Brazil the Brazilians loved us,” Stokes recalled. “I felt like after the game, they stripped us of practically all our clothes. I can remember me and Shaq Goodwin walking out with just shorts on when we left after the championship game. It was hard for us to say no to guys who cared that much about the USA. We take for granted the smallest things, like a USA Basketball shirt, but to them it meant the world.”
With an Americas championship under his belt, Stokes is hoping he’ll be able to help the 2013 USA U19 World Championship Team compete for a gold medal this summer in Prague, Czech Republic. While that will be no easy task – there have been six different champions in each of the past six editions of the tournament - he first must earn a spot on the USA U19 squad, also no easy task.
“Being out there, it feels like you have no air when you’re playing,” Stokes said with regards to what he’ll be up against this summer. “I know we’ll be trying out in Colorado, so I know to get myself in better shape for next time.”
USABasketball.com caught up with Stokes recently to find out what else he remembered from last summer.
You got your first taste of international competition last summer. What do you think about the FIBA rules and the overall international game?
I really liked the rules of the international game. I enjoyed playing the five-man there, because it was so versatile. I felt like at any position, someone can make plays. I also liked the shot-clock rule, it’s similar to college. I liked the way you could get the ball off the rim. That made it much easier for a guy like me to score, because I like getting tip-ins.
What are some of your best memories from last summer’s team and your trip to Brazil?
I feel like USA Basketball was one of my best experiences as far as any summer camps, any summer leagues or anything like that. It was my favorite summer, because I made great friends. Playing with Julius Randle, Rasheed Sulaimon, Marcus Smart, I’m able to ask those guys for advice, able to cheer them on as they play this season. And also there were a couple guys I knew (from other camps). Just being able to ball with those guys in a whole other country was a different experience for me and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Do you still keep in touch with teammates?
Yeah, we have a group message, me, Rasheed, Julius and Marcus, we text every once in awhile. We talk about games and stuff. We played against Oklahoma State, and me and Marcus caught up after the game in Puerto Rico. It was a real special team for me, because everyone bonded. Just watching each other play, now I feel like I have people to cheer on.
Part of USA Basketball’s philosophy is to not only compete for gold medals, but we want our athletes to serve as ambassadors for our country. Do you think you did that and how?
I was shocked how much in Brazil the Brazilians loved us. I felt like after the game, they stripped us of practically all our clothes. I can remember me and Shaq Goodwin walking out with just shorts on when we left after the championship game. It was hard for us to say no to guys who cared that much about the USA. We take for granted the smallest things, like a USA Basketball shirt, but to them it meant the world.
Did you pay close attention to how the USA team was doing in the Olympics?
Oh yeah, I loved the way they played like a team. LeBron (James) took over when it was time to take over. But throughout the whole game they played like a team. They pushed the ball. They played like you’d expect them to play, and that was every single game. I don’t think they took one game off.
I also followed the 17-and-unders (USA U17 World Championship Team). I was watching it because I have a good friend in Jonathan Williams, who has committed to Missouri. I kept up with them. They won, too.
Did you feel a bit of kinship to the USA team, given that you also played for a gold medal last summer?
Yeah. You don’t really know what USA Basketball is about until you have that jersey on and (are) playing in that jersey. Like I said, it was a special experience for me. The first time, when I first walked onto the court as a starter, going up for the jump ball, you think about it. You’re playing for the jump ball for your country. Just being able to wear that jersey let me know what it was all about. Because of that, I paid more attention to the Olympics this year.
You were the only player on the team with collegiate experience. How do you think that prepared you for playing on the U18 team?
It definitely prepared me. Even the small things, like hedging the ball, some defensive concepts that you don’t get in high school, I felt that coach Billy Donovan didn’t really have to stress over me learning a lot of concepts because I had already learned them in college. As far as the high school players, I don’t think anyone had learned what we learned in college. Being the one with the most experience, the guys were constantly asking me questions about college and what they needed to do for credits, what was my hardest thing to go through. I felt like the older guy for once.
Did you assume a leadership role because you were the most experienced and oldest player on the team?
Definitely. Me and Marcus Smart were the leaders of the team.
All coaches have different styles. What did you learn from Billy Donovan, Mark Few and Shaka Smart?
They put in offenses, but they didn’t really want to use offenses. They wanted to use our athleticism. They wanted to push the ball up the court. They just wanted us to play hard and play good defense. That’s what they really stressed with us: play good defense. They knew if we played good defense, shots would fall in. Those coaches didn’t really stress about missing shots, but they did stress about always playing hard.
Did playing for different coaches and with different teammates help you better prepare for this season at Tennessee?
Most definitely. When you’re playing for coaches like Billy Donovan, Shaka Smart and Mark Few, you’re definitely going to learn a lot. They all have different styles of coaching. Billy Donovan is more about the pick-and-roll, Shaka Smart is more of a ‘push it, play hard’ type of offense and Mark Few is more of … just go out and play. I learned a lot from those guys. They definitely showed me a lot of easy ways to get points. They taught me a lot of intangibles.
Are you hoping to be able to compete on the USA U19 World Championship Team this summer?
Oh yes, I definitely want to play on a USA team again. I enjoyed my experience. I’d love to compete for a world championship, that’s every kid’s dream.
If so, what do you think you need to do in order to make the team?
Prepare for the hardest trials of my life in Colorado. Being out there, it feels like you have no air when you’re playing. I know we’ll be trying out in Colorado, so I know to get myself in better shape for next time.