UT's Stokes Honoring Cancer Victim With Team USA | Zagsblog
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Friday / January 27.
  • UT’s Stokes Honoring Cancer Victim With Team USA

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    Jarnell Stokes couldn’t wait to help Team USA in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Brazil, but he had just one request entering the event.

    He wanted to change his uniform number to 13.

    Stokes hoped to honor Trey Erwin, a 15 year-old Collierville (Tenn.) High School football player who was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Erwin wears No. 13 on the football field.

    “[Erwin] wore No. 13 in high school,” the 6-foot-8, 245-pound Stokes told SNY.tv by phone from Colorado Springs, Colo.  “His wish was to come to a ballgame and to meet me and that just stuck with me as a college player. I don’t consider myself to be of high stature but I really want to help him out.”

    As it turned out, Stokes will wear No. 14 in Brazil because his number request came in too late. Erwin and Stokes have met several times, including during a visit to the Tennessee campus in Knoxville. The Website Tailgate4thecure.org has various pictures of the two together. The Memphis Grizzlies also honored Erwin during a home game.

    Stokes has another connection to cancer in that current Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin beat non-Hodgkins lymphoma in the late 1990s.

    Stokes made the final 12-man roster for the U.S. U18 team and is the only current college player on the roster. He enrolled at Tennessee in January after graduating from Memphis Southwind High School early and played in 17 games with the Vols, averaging 9.6 points and 7.4 rebounds and being named to the SEC All-Freshman Team.

    “It means a lot,” Stokes said of making the team. “It’s something a lot of guys don’t  get the chance to [wear a ‘USA’ jersey] but a lot of guys dream to wear it. When I got the invitation it was a no-brainer for me to play USA Basketball.”

    Said Martin: “I think it’s a great achievement for Jarnell. He put the work in. He earned that honor. He’s probably the most veteran guy on the team. He’s the one guy that played in college. Has college experience.”

    Still, Stokes said the altitude in Colorado was difficult to cope with while the team trained there.

    “A lot of guys can’t want to leave this city because the altitude is killing everyone,” he said Monday. “It affected me a lot. I came down here in pretty good shape but I don’t feel like I’m in shape down here so I’m hoping it’s just the altitude but I’m pretty sure it is because everyone else is tired, too.”

    Stokes has practiced against some strong teammates, including 2013 power forward Julius Randle, who has impressed Stokes with his work ethic.

    “He’s a good player,” Stokes said. “He’s very bouncy. He’s athletic and the most important thing, he’s not selfish so he’s a good teammate. There’s no cockiness to him so he’s just like all the other guys. That’s what I like about him. He’s willing to learn and there’s no selfishness in his game.”

    While some U18 players said they are hoping to recruit Randle to their college teams, Stokes is staying away from that.

    “I’m not down here to recruit,” he said. “I’m just down here to win the gold medal. I’ll just leave that to my coaches.”

    His head coach right now is SEC rival Billy Donovan, who unsuccessfully tried to recruit Stokes to Florida. But Stokes feels comfortable with Donovan and likes his style of ball.

    “I pretty much know his style,” he said. “He likes pick and roll, get up a lot of shots, get up and down the floor. I wouldn’t mind being Patric Young or [Erik] Murphy because I like the way those guys play. I pretty much know the style. I scouted them and I still have [Donovan’s] number from when he recruited me.”

    Stokes ultimately chose Tennessee in part because of a desire to help his state university restore its image in the post-Bruce Pearl Era and to get them back to the NCAA Tournament.

    He said the transition from high school to college ball last year was not as hard as he had expected.

    “Coming in I thought i would just redshirt but then when I started practicing with the guys I realized i’m just as big, I’m just as fast, I’m just as skilled. so I just decided to play,” he said.

    Tennessee lost to Middle Tennessee State in the second round of the NIT and Stokes hopes for better things this year.

    “It still worked out but I think this experience of being here with the high school guys and coming into college next ear, it should be a no-brainer  that I’ll be 10 times better than what I would’ve been,” Stokes said.

    Stokes said he’s not concerned with individual goals and simply wants Tennessee to challenge for the SEC championship.

    “I’m looking to win the SEC so I’m not really looking at individual goals,” he said.

    And even though he won’t wear No. 13 in Brazil, Stokes hopes to honor Trey Erwin will his play.

    (Photos: Tailgate4thecure.org & Steven Maikoski, USA Basketball)


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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.