“I think we played nine or ten games,” Jarnell Stokes said. “I can’t really remember.”
Actually, Memphis YOMCA and Stokes, who announced two weeks ago that he’d be attending Oak Hill Academy for his senior year, had only played eight games in the Nike Peach Jam a week earlier. Still, on the way back from North Augusta, S.C., after a loss to BABC in the tournament final, Stokes wasn’t trying to catch up on his sleep.
He was ready to work out with YOMCA coach Jevonte Holmes, to attempt to rectify what the big man deemed a personal failure in the championship loss.
“I think he overworks himself sometimes,” Holmes said. “Sometimes you have to sit him down and just be like, ‘Jarnell, just take this day off.’”
This is what Stokes has become: once again a Top 20 prospect resolute on improving his skill set — or attempting to — every chance he gets, sleep be damned.
It started sometime during his junior year. Entering the high school season, then-Central High’s big man Jarnell Stokes was the latest commodity in the blooming basketball hotbed of Memphis, Tennessee.
Then his stock started to slip. Perhaps Stokes’s ability was slightly overstated. In a span of a few months, Stokes fell from a surefire Top 15 prospect to outside Scout.com’s top 30, all the way to No. 33. Rankings can be a subjective list, to be sure, and hundreds of prospects around the country would kill to be ranked that high, but Stokes didn’t pretend not to care.
He certainly noticed, and watching as his prospects teetered in front of him affected the NBA-aspiring big man.
So Stokes went to Holmes, whom he’d known since he was 12. Holmes had been training some of the city’s best basketball players, from Washington Wizards guard Lester Hudson to University of Memphis junior forward Ferrakohn Hall.
“Me and Jarnell just came to grips with what he really wanted to get out of basketball,” Holmes said. “Eventually, he said wanted to be a pro player. I told him if he wanted to be a pro player, he had to start training like a pro player. That’s what he’s bought into.”
Stokes bought in so much that, after spending the last two summers with the Atlanta Celtics, he went straight to the directors of YOMCA and raved about Holmes’s technique.
“I let them know if Jevonte was the coach, I would play with them,” Stokes said. “He works me out, he knows what I can do. He has confidence in me and I have confidence in him.”
Holmes subsequently was appointed as the 17-U YOMCA coach and as such has enjoyed measurable success this summer. His squad won the Real Deal on the Rock in Little Rock, Ark., in April and reached the Nike Peach Jam final last weekend in North Augusta, S.C.
And maybe not so coincidentally, in the latest batch of Scout.com rankings, Stokes jumped 15 spots from No. 33 to No. 18, safely nestled in the elite caste of the 2012 class.
“Him slipping in the rankings was a rude awakening for him,” Holmes said. “He finally saw what can happen. As quick as you can get it, you can lose it. A kid like him is very hard to find, and it’s hard not to have the confidence in the kid when you know what he’s doing day in and day out.”
Two weeks ago, Stokes decided he’d done all he could at Central. The forward announced he’d be transferring to Oak Hill Academy (Va.) for his senior season in yet another move to push himself, to expand his reach, to make a dent nationally.
He’s leaving behind family, a celebrity status, and excessive attention from the opposite sex, he said, in order to bond with other players who are more on his level.
He assures it’s nothing personal against the University of Memphis, the city or its people. He’s just trying to serve his own best interests.
“I think people are scared because a lot of guys don’t like to leave home, but for me, it’s just a business decision and whatever best fits me,” Stokes said. “If I think coming back home (to play at Memphis) is going to be the best thing for me, and the best thing for winning, I think I’ll come back home. It has nothing to do with me not liking Memphis because I love staying in Memphis.”
Of course, this means no more working with Holmes, who’s helped Stokes make vast improvements on the court. Stokes’s mid-range jumper, his footwork, and ball-handling have all been made better by Holmes and his regimen.
The two struggled with the decision. They went back and forth for several weeks. Stay in Memphis where Stokes had the chance to shut down the city for another year or head north to Mouth of Wilson, Va., where things are equalized?
“I really wanted him to stay home so we could continue to work, but I think it was more so him being able to (play basketball) year-round,” Holmes said. “Up there, it’s proven they have the best players. They’re always a powerhouse. I think it was a mature decision of him to go.”
Stokes doesn’t room with his teammates on the road. He shares a room with Holmes, because he has no inclination to deal with bouncy, off-the-wall teenagers while he’s trying to get some rest.
“You know how kids are playful at night? Jarnell wants to get his sleep,” Holmes said. “He’s like my alarm clock, waking up at 5 a.m. sharp every time. I’m telling you. Every time. He just wants to work at 5 o’clock in the morning.”
And so that’s exactly what Holmes and Stokes do. They begin, and essentially end, their days in a gym.
Because he works so often and closely with Stokes, Holmes has been approached by college coaches around the country about a job on their respective staffs.
Holmes, however, is no opportunist and said he has no interest in taking a job at a Division I school until Stokes has moved on from college.
“My thing is, our relationship means more to me,” Holmes said. “When I’m 65 years old, I want to be able to sit down with Jarnell at dinner and just talk about life. I don’t want to influence his decision like that.”
Stokes is currently considering Memphis, Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut, and Kentucky. Stokes said he’s going to take visits to both Arkansas and Florida but doesn’t have anything mapped out beyond that.
Until then, Stokes can probably be found in a gym somewhere, the five-star 250-pounder gracefully working his way through cone drills and up the national rankings.
“We both had a vision, we both visualized how his game should be, and we got in the gym and worked hard at it,” Holmes said. “The desire and work ethic is not even a question.”