Q+A: Jarnell Stokes

The Memphis native understands the true meaning of Grit and Grind.
by June 19, 2014

Jarnell Stokes averaged 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds for the Tennessee Volunteers last season. On January 18, he grabbed 15 boards to go along with 20 points in a matchup with future lottery pick Julius Randle and the Kentucky Wildcats. He also went for 20 points and 11 rebounds against the Final Four-bound Florida Gators in February. Despite recording 19 double-doubles during the regular season, Stokes wouldn’t capture college basketball’s collective attention until the NCAA Tournament.

While beasting his way to a statistical line of 18 points and 12.8 rebounds during four Tournament games, Stokes led the 11-seeded Volunteers all the way to the Sweet 16. NBA executives and basketball fans alike couldn’t help but take notice. The physical toughness that Stokes brings to the floor—combined with relentless effort around the basket—has helped project the big man from Memphis into the late first round of this year’s Draft.

A mock draft at CBS Sports has Stokes coming off the board to the NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs with the 30th overall pick. There’s also been plenty of talk linking Stokes with his hometown Grizzlies at pick No. 22.

By June 26, the punishing 6-8 power forward will have worked out for many of the teams drafting in the mid-to-late first round. He’s already met with the Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors. He will also be working out for the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers later this week.

SLAM caught up with Stokes recently to talk about the pre-Draft process, growing up in Memphis and making the transition to the NBA.

SLAM: Last week, one of your workouts was with the Memphis Grizzlies—a team you grew up watching that also has the 22nd overall pick. What was that experience like?

Jarnell Stokes: It means a lot to be able to work out with the Memphis Grizzlies. My junior and senior year in high school, I was a season-ticket holder in the nosebleed section. I was watching these games, and I was trying to watch every single thing that Zach Randolph and those guys would do. I was just watching the game trying to see what every player was doing on the floor and even during timeouts. I was somewhat envisioning myself being there one day. So working out there last week, it was crazy to realize the time has arrived.

SLAM: You play a physical, tough style of basketball. How much did growing up in the Whitehaven area of Memphis with a father who has a military background impact that approach to your game?

JS: I did grow up in the hood. But my parents were very strict on me and they somewhat sheltered me away from the bad environment that I grew up in. Like you said, I have a Dad who was in the military for a while, so he was very strict on me growing up. He had 5 a.m. wakeup calls. He was at my games as the loudest one there and he was always making sure that I was on top of everything I needed to be in order to be successful. So it doesn’t matter where you come from. Obviously, I come from a bad part of Memphis. But I came out OK. I was tough, and it somewhat gave me a tough exterior as far as my personality on the floor, the way I carry myself and the way I approach the game. I credit that to my Dad. When guys are comparing me to someone like a David West during this draft process, that’s a huge compliment to me in terms of toughness and I think it reflects how I was raised.

SLAM: Many analysts consider you the best overall rebounder in this year’s draft class. When it comes to rebounding the basketball, what is your mindset?

JS: I played defensive end all my life. So that definitely helps with rebounding. I almost have the same mentality as a defensive end has in getting to the quarterback. That’s how I try to attack the glass. I was in a meeting with a team recently and they asked me, “What do you enjoy most about the game?” And honestly, what excites me the most is demoralizing a team by allowing my team to have numerous possessions. I love to extend possessions for my team with offensive rebounds. Getting those rebounds when the shot clock is going down, you can see it on the other team’s face. That feels good. I really enjoy being able to extend possessions for my team.

SLAM: You graduated from Southwind High School with honors. You’ve earned the reputation of being a great teammate and a first-class citizen at Tennessee. Do you think your maturity and professionalism will help give you an edge next season in the NBA?

JS: Yes, I think it will. I think I’ve done a great job of keeping my head on straight. Growing up in Memphis, there’s not much to do but there’s a lot that will get you in trouble. I’ve been raised the right way, and I give all that credit to my parents. In college, and now, I don’t do much. I play chess, I play video games and I rest up for my next workout. I eat, sleep and drink basketball. That’s all I do.

SLAM: What have teams told you that they like about your game and the work you put in at Tennessee during your time there?

JS: Teams have told me that they like my toughness. They like my ability to defend guys on the interior. They also have said that they like my ability to use my strength on the defensive end and in terms of my rebounding. I did those things in college. I think I’m the best rebounder in the Draft. And that run to the Sweet 16 sort of stapled the season I had during my junior year. I feel like I had a great season and I’m proud of what we accomplished as a team.

SLAM: You mentioned watching Zach Randolph growing up. Who are some other guys in the NBA that you watch and pattern aspects of your own game after?

JS: I admire the hard workers. Guys like Paul Millsap, who came into the League as a rebounder and then people saw he could expand his game. Next thing you know he is able to become an All-Star. He worked hard and expanded his game over the years, which is something I plan on doing in the League. I also look at guys like Trevor Booker—guys who do the dirty work for his team and play hard. Every possession he gives everything he has and that’s something I plan to bring to a team.

SLAM: You primarily played with your back to the basket on the interior in college. What aspects of your game have you been able to show teams that they might not have necessarily seen over the last couple seasons?

JS: I’ve been able to show that I’m much more explosive than people thought I was in college. In high school, I was more of a perimeter, face-up forward type of player. In college, my coach told me the team needed me to be a beast. He needed me to operate around the basket and rebound, so those were things I focused on in order for our team to win basketball games. During my workouts, I’m able to showcase a lot more of my game. In college, I didn’t show as much explosiveness because I used more lateral leverage. I’m more concentrated on going into guys as opposed to over guys, but the explosiveness is still there.

SLAM: You’re one-on-one with a GM or team president. What is your message, what type of player would they be getting by drafting Jarnell Stokes on June 26?

JS: When teams have asked me that question, I keep my answer simple. They’ll be drafting a tough, rebounding machine that is not a liability on offense. Teams will get a tough guy who can rebound and a guy who has a lot more skills than people expect. They’ll also get a good defender—someone who will defend his butt off in the post.