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Grizzly Bear Banter with Chip Williams: Jarnell Stokes, the Young Bull of Bluff City

In the second installment of the interview series known as Grizzly Bear Banter, Chip had the opportunity to interview former Tennessee Vols' star, current Grizz rookie, and lifetime Memphian, Jarnell Stokes.

Jennifer Pottheiser
GBBanter with Chip Williams - Jarnell Stokes

Every rookie looks forward to playing against the guys they once grew up rooting for or against. They have that 'welcome to the NBA, rookie' moment. Whether that moment comes when they step out on the court with LeBron James for the first time, getting posterized by Josh Smith or crossed up by Chris Paul, every rookies' moment is guaranteed to come.

For Jarnell Stokes, however, he says that moment has already happened for him. "You know, I grew up in Memphis. I grew up a Grizzlies fan, and I came to their games (when I was younger). (My moment came a few weeks back when) I walked into a room in the FedEx Forum that said 'Players/Coaches Only'. That's when it really hit me. That's when I knew I was an NBA player."

Jarnell Stokes' story is about as unique and interesting as they come. Growing up in Memphis, he regularly attended Grizzly home games. A highly touted recruit coming out of high school, Jarnell made the unpopular and somewhat shocking decision to leave the city and play his college basketball in Knoxville at the University of Tennessee. Intially after making his college decision, Stokes said he felt that the city of Memphis hated him, but that the hate was "short-lived."

Jarnell quickly made a name for himself in, not only the SEC, but around the college basketball with his tough, physical play on the interior. In his final season with the Vols, the junior big-man averaged 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds while shooting 53.1% from the field, all career highs.

During the draft process, Stokes went from being a mid-to-late second round pick to, in some mock drafts, a late first round pick. There was even a buzz around the Memphis Grizzlies' organization about the potential of drafting Jarnell with the 22nd pick, should the draft shake out that way. Draft night finally came, and the Grizzlies elected to go in a different direction by selecting UCLA's Jordan Adams with the 22nd pick.

"Draft night was one of the worst nights of my life. I was a nervous wreck the entire time. I expected to go in the first round, and at first, I was disappointed (that I wasn't selected in the first round)", Stokes said "It's an honor just to be in the NBA, though."

Coming back home to play his professional basketball in his hometown, a city that once held a grudge against him for 'leaving' them, was a dream come true for Jarnell, but he had an interesting take on why he will enjoy being back here in Memphis. "I have a different perspective on things. When I'm out doing community service, I can related to those kids." That's something that doesn't always initially come to mind when you think about coming back to your hometown.

Part of what drives Jarnell is knowing that there are still kids out there growing up the same way that he did. He has the rare upper hand of actually having walked in their shoes before. Jarnell is going to be a tremendous asset, not only on the court, but in the community, also.

Speaking of on-court action, Jarnell Stokes has spent some time in a Memphis Grizzlies uniform. Now, it's just summer league, but hey once July rolls around, basketball in of any form is a beautiful thing. (At least, as beautiful as summer league basketball can be.) As far as Jarnell's thoughts on how he played in the summer league, he said, "I thought I played well. I really thought I showed I could rebound the basketball."

It's been said before, and it will continually be harped upon, I'm sure, since we have a player that fits this criteria, but there is seemingly one trait that is a guarantee to translate from college to the NBA quite possibly better than any other trait a basketball player posses: rebounding. And, luckily for the Memphis Grizzlies, they acquired one of the best rebounders in all of college basketball over the last three seasons.


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Jarnell Stokes has been labeled as an undersized power forward. It seems like an oddity that a 'undersized power forward' would be able to rebound at the incredibly high rate that Jarnell does."Rebounding is a skill. I've worked very hard at it. I have the instincts and the drive to want to rebound. I don't know. I can't really explain it. Some times I just know where the ball is going to come off (of the rim)."

On the offensive end, Stokes looked, at times, well, kind of like a rookie: raw and out of place. This is pretty a-typical, though, for big-men coming out of college. Post moves and counter-post moves are just not taught in today's college basketball. (Which is not entirely the coaches' faults seeing how players are virtually in college and out of college in the span of about six months, but that's another argument for another day.)

Stokes will learn with time how to properly attack a defender in the post with different moves. Luckily for him, he has the best center-power forward combination in the NBA (as said by Jon Leuer in the first installment of Grizzly Bear Banter) to learn from. "I understand I'm a rookie, and my job right now is to learn. I have to absorb everything that Marc and Zach do."

There is, presumably, going to be a training camp battle for the back-up power forward position. It will come down to either Jarnell Stokes or Jon Leuer to replace the minutes left behind by Ed Davis. "I know I'm at the bottom of the pole, right now. My job is to work hard (in training camp)," Stokes said in regards to what he thinks about the opportunity for early playing time.

It is not out of the question, in fact, it may be more likely that Jarnell spends a significant amount of time with the Iowa Energy of the D-League rather than play a very significant role on the team this season. It seems a little overoptimistic to think that a second round pick, albeit a very talented one, can come in and produce for a contending team in the Western Conference. Jarnell realizes that the D-League may be a real option for him during his inaugural in the NBA, "Again, I know I'm a rookie. I just want to work hard, and it never hurts get extra work." It was great to hear Jarnell have an 'I'll do whatever I'm asked to do' mentality about the whole thing.

I've been hearing people call me J-BO, like ZBO. I don't think I've done enough to be called J-BO, yet. I like 'Young Bull'. I like to think that I play like bull in the paint.   -Jarnell Stokes on a nickname

Now, being 6'8" and weighing 260+ pounds, one would assume that Jarnell Stokes would have looked up to some former NBA big-men growing up. Tim Duncan and maybe even Zach Randolph would have been great role models for Jarnell to mold his game after. However, he surprised me when he told me who he tried to emulate growing up, "I wanted to be Melo (Carmelo Anothony) growing up. He's who I looked up to. I tried to model my game after his. I realized after a while that wasn't going to happen." While he may not have Carmelo Anthony's game, Jarnell would serve himself well by trying to incorporate some of what Melo does, especially in the mid range and on the low post, on the offensive end into his own game. (But I'm confident I don't have to tell him that.)

We've come to the point in Grizzly Bear Banter where I ask the interviewee about what nicknames he likes/dislikes. Memphis, particularly Grizzlies fans, loves to give players nicknames. Last week, Jon Leuer said he didn't mind the Johnny Badger nickname, and he didn't have one that he'd been called that he disliked. Well, we have a first on GBBanter. Jarnell Stokes does not like the nickname J-BO. "I've been hearing people call me J-BO, like ZBO. I don't think I've done enough to be called J-BO, yet." But, there is a nickname that Jarnell has been called that he does like, "I like 'Young Bull'. I like to think that I play like bull in the paint." So, Young Bull gets the Jarnell Stokes stamp of approval when it come to nicknames. (P.S. Sorry, Joe Mullinax. You tried vehemently.)

Will Jarnell Stokes play significant minutes this season for the Memphis Grizzlies? I honestly have no idea. I believe he has the ability, but, as I previously stated, it is difficult for any rookie, let alone a second round pick to crack the rotation of a contending basketball team.

What I do know is this: There is not a more humble, hard-working, or likeable Memphis Grizzly than Jarnell Stokes.I know that's a bold statement seeing the number of humble, hard-working, and likeable players the Grizzlies already have on their roster, but I believe it to be true. Regardless of playing time this year, take great pride and comfort in knowing that Jarnell Stokes is setting the standard of excellence on the basketball court, in the practice facility, and around the community of Memphis, Tennessee.