November 4, 2011

Stokes talks about his finalists

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When he's on the basketball court, there's no uncertainty for Jarnell Stokes. He's confident, talented and at home.

That's never going to change.

However, as the 6-foot-8 senior at Memphis (Tenn.) Southwind tries to make a college choice and waits to find out whether he'll be allowed to play as a senior, his life is filled with plenty of uncertainty.

The No. 11 player in the 2012 Rivals150 has dedicated himself to the gym and those daily 5:30 a.m. workouts are paying dividends.

"I'm definitely on top of my game right now," Stokes told "I'm in the best shape of my life and I'm doing a lot of stuff that I wasn't doing even a month ago. I'm expanding my game more to the outside, I'm in great shape and I'm playing very well.

"It's from watching college, that next level and seeing what I've got to prepare for."

His eligibility is in question after initially leaving Memphis Central to attend Oak Hill, then deciding he didn't want to leave the city and transferring to Southwind. Meanwhile, he's had plenty of time to think about his college choice.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," said the five-star prospect. "It would take a lot of stress away if I did. But, I think I'm growing gray hairs trying to decide. I like all the schools that I've been looking at."

He's already taken visits to Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee and Memphis. This week, he decided that he'll take one more visit and added Kentucky to the mix. He'll see the Wildcats this weekend.

Stokes broke down his contenders for

Arkansas: "I have a great relationship with the coaches. They've been recruiting me since I was in the eighth grade. It was ideal to visit them first because that's who I probably have the best relationship with. I like the fast tempo, I like the way they play. The assistant coach, Coach T.J. (Cleveland), he's like my friend. A lot times when we talk, we don't even talk about recruiting. It's like a call with a friend."

Florida: "Billy Donovan, his name, it speaks for itself. I was originally being recruited by coach Pel (assistant John Pelphrey) at Arkansas and then he moved to Florida and that opened it up for them. I like the way they play. I like Coach Donovan's passion for the game. You can feel it through the phone. He's also proven he can do it and he's proven he can get guys who pay my position, the four, to the league."

Tennessee- "Coach (Cuonzo) Martin is a very genuine guy. Just talking to him, and not even talking about basketball he's somebody who you want to put yourself around as a person because of the way he looks at things. I guess they are at a disadvantage because they came on the job late, compared to the other staffs haven't been recruiting me as long. But, I love the city and the coaching staff."

Memphis: "I think they have one of the best coaching staffs and I look at what they have put together now with NBA guys on staff. Coach (Jack) Murphy comes from the NBA, Damon Stoudamire's name speaks for itself. Then coach Josh Pastner has that experience at Arizona and Kentucky so he's shown what he can do. Also they've been recruiting me since day one and made me a priority. Also, it's the hometown school and that's important, but at the end of the day you have to do what's best for you."

Kentucky: "If you remember, I had them in my top six with UCLA too. I was set to go to UCLA for a visit but I just wasn't, you know, feeling it. Then I picked back up on Kentucky and worked things out where I will be visiting this weekend. I've got tons of phone calls coming from deciding to do that. Coach (John) Calipari is another one of those guys, what he's done speaks for itself. Had it been another school that comes in late I might not have taken them so serious, but you have to take Kentucky serious."

After he visits Kentucky over the weekend, Stokes is hoping that he can come up with a decision. He's not sure he'll have a choice by signing day on Wednesday, but he would prefer to sign early.

Figuring out how to say no, though, is a major part of the process for the senior.

"Saying no is definitely the hardest part," Stokes said. "Look at a guy like Coach T.J. who I've talked to on the phone for hours and hours, saying no to him would break my heart. Memphis? C'mon the investment they put into me and it being the hometown school, saying no to them would be hard.

"Florida, the time they put into me, saying no to Pel and Coach Donovan would be tough too because I could really see myself playing there. It's the same with everybody."

For now, Stokes is just doing his best to try and bring the certainty he feels on the floor back into his decision. If he's not cleared to play as a senior, he's got plans A, B, C and D to adapt.

As for making that college choice, he at least has an idea of what will push one school to the top of the list.

"It's hard to say but I think the trust with the coaches is most important," he said. "The relationship with the coaches really matters. Stats and numbers won't make a player like a college, I think it's really who you will be dealing with when you get there and being comfortable with them."

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