The USA Basketball U-19 team spent the past weekend practicing at the Verizon Center before heading to Prague for the FIBA U-19 World Championship. There are several players on the team who won a gold medal last year at the U-18 World Championship in Brazil, but only 1 of them wears a size-20 shoe.
Jarnell Stokes recently finished up his 2nd season at Tennessee but has yet to make it to the NCAA tourney. After being named All-SEC as a freshman he started every game for the Vols last year. He will play a key role on the boards, as his 3.8 offensive rebounds/game last year ranked him in the top-10 in the nation. Jon Teitel got to spend some time talking with Stokes about winning a gold medal and returning to the site of one ugly freaking game.
You wear a size-20 shoe, how hard are they to find? Adidas makes a size 20 but Nike does not, so I cannot wear a LeBron or an Air Jordan. I have worn a size 20 since the 8th grade.
You played on the gold-medal-winning team USA at the 2012 FIBA U-18 Championship in Brazil. What did you learn last summer that you think can help you this summer? The international game is different than the college game, a lot of the big men are shooters and everyone is skilled. The other teams are good at executing their plays so it is important to look at the scouting reports.
You scored four points in a 37-36 loss to Georgetown at the Verizon Center last November: was that the ugliest game that you have ever seen? We really struggled last year against zone defenses and the Hoyas had one of the best. We did not have a lot of shooters outside or size inside but we have some good shooters coming into the program next year.
You had a career-high 18 rebounds in a one-point win over Alabama in January. Is there such a thing as being “in the zone” when it comes to rebounding? I did not think I was playing hard enough early in the season so I wanted to turn my season around during conference play. Even when I would get double or triple-teamed I did not make any excuses.
You led the SEC in offensive rebounds and led your team in blocks per game last year. What is your secret for being a great rebounder and shot-blocker? Rebounding is all about hustle, I pay close attention to Zach Randolph. I try to use my strength and I focus on having perfect timing. I do not have great athleticism but a lot of my blocks are technically deflections while my opponent still has the ball in his hands.
You finished the season with 16 double-doubles, including a whopping 12 offensive rebounds in an NIT first roundloss to Mercer. What will it take to make the leap from the NIT to the NCAA tourney next year? We have been on the bubble each of the past two years, which is not fun. We want to get into the top-25 and stay there all season. We are bringing back Jordan McRae and Jeronne Maymon (who missed all of last year with a knee injury), and we also have some recruits who can shoot well, so we should have all of the ingredients.
Your younger brother Isaiah recently finished 8th grade as a 6’7” defensive lineman. Is he going to become the next “Too Tall” Jones or will he follow your footsteps into basketball? He has played hoops all of his life but is definitely playing football again next year. If he ends up growing to 6’11” then I guess he might have to switch to basketball!