Jarnell Stokes may have been the most underrated player in college basketball this season, but he’s not flying under the radar anymore.
The junior power forward from Tennessee had his coming out party in the first two games of the NCAA Tournament, leading the Volunteers to victories over Iowa (18 points, 13 rebounds, 5-7 from the field, 8-11 from the free throw line) and Massachusetts (26 points, 14 rebounds, 7-11 from the field, 12-13 from the free throw line).
These performances were certainly impressive, but they’re actually pretty similar to what Stokes has been doing all season for Tennessee. The 20-year-old has been the Volunteers’ catalyst throughout this campaign, averaging 15.1 points, 10.5 rebounds and a block while shooting 53.4 percent from the field. He’s recorded 21 double-doubles, including 20 points and 11 rebounds against top-ranked Florida back in February. In recent days, Stokes has made headlines and received a lot of praise, which caught him off guard.
“I’m surprised with how much media attention I’ve gotten,” Stokes said with a laugh. “I mean, I had 20 and 15 against Kentucky and 20 and 11 against the best defense in the country in Florida, but now all of a sudden it’s like this. I enjoy it though! Coach always told me, ‘When you start winning games, the rest will take care of itself.’ I’m glad it’s finally paying off.”
Stokes and his teammates entered the tournament as a huge underdog, having to play in the First Four opening round. Even though the team finished 23-12 on the season, they felt that they were better than their 11-seed indicated.
“We had a chip [on our shoulder] since the day they announced us as an 11-seed,” Stokes said. “Joe Lunardi [of ESPN] had us as, I think, a 10-seed and then they announced us as an 11-seed, so that sort of put a chip on our shoulder. We’ve been playing great defense as of late and we’re playing well. … I definitely think we have a shot [to make a deep run].”
Tennessee will try to continue their incredible run this evening when they take on 14-seed Mercer.
“I know that Mercer is a really good team,” Stokes said. “We’re just trying to take it game by game. We just need to worry about Mercer right now.”
Looking past an opponent is never smart, just ask the Massachusetts Minutemen. Stokes admitted that prior to Tennessee’s game against 6-seed UMass, the Volunteers had some bulletin board material.
“I watched some of UMass’ interviews and read some articles, and they were so worried about playing Duke,” Stokes said. “And it’s crazy because now neither of those teams are going to the Sweet 16. We have to focus on Mercer and understand that they’re a very good team.”
Stokes could’ve left Tennessee after his sophomore season to enter the NBA draft, as he was being projected as a second-round pick. However, he decided to return to school. When asked if flying under the radar and seeing his name low on mock drafts this year motivated him, Stokes shrugs it off and makes it clear that the NBA isn’t on his mind.
“I think a lot of things are just media perception,” Stokes said. “I think when teams are able to see me in workouts, things will change. I think my measurements will be just fine, that I’ll measure well for a power forward. I think I can have success in the NBA. But I’m trying to win these ballgames and I’m not worrying about the NBA. If I started doing that, I may take, like, five jumpers just to prove that I can hit a jump shot (laughs). I’ve seen that from so many players, trying to do things they can’t do [or trying to showcase skills]. Sometimes it helps, more times it doesn’t. Hopefully I can show what I can do in workouts someday, whenever I decide to go, but I’m not focused on that right now.”
Things really started to click for Stokes in January, when he stopped picking up early fouls that limited his minutes and realized that he needed to dominate inside rather than play on the perimeter. At 6’9 and 260 pounds, there aren’t many college players who can contain him when he’s banging in the post, using his size and strength to his advantage. Stokes credits Volunteers head coach Cuonzo Martin as well as ESPN analyst (and former college coach) Jimmy Dykes for helping him shift his focus to imposing his will inside. He developed the mindset that nobody could stop him on the interior, his confidence soared, and he’s been producing ever since.
“I’m physically imposing in the college game, so I try to stick to my strengths,” Stokes said. “That’s something Coach kept talking to me about. That’s one of the problems that I had when I was younger, I wanted to be out on the perimeter and stuff like that. Coach really pushed me to impose my will inside and let the rest take care of itself. He also continued to push me to work hard and improve my game. … This is one of the reasons why I came back, why I didn’t force the issue with the NBA last year. I wanted to become a better all-around player.”
Stokes’ transformation has been remarkable. In the past, he talked about improving his perimeter skills and idolizing Carmelo Anthony. That’s who he modeled his game after, copying the New York Knicks star’s jump shot and isolation moves. Now, Stokes laughs when that’s brought up.
“I know I’m not going to be a three in the league now,” Stokes said with a chuckle. “I’m not going to be at that position at any point in my life. Now, I love watching David West, Carlos Boozer and old tapes of Karl Malone.
“I choose to impose my will inside because that’s my advantage. I don’t want to become a jump shooter unless I have to. I think my biggest strengths are my first step, my ability to shoot floaters and my high basketball IQ.”
This season, Stokes is much more comfortable being Tennessee’s focal point. Last season, double teams frustrated him and often took him out of games. This year, he says he loves double teams because it allows him to pick apart a defense.
“I get double teamed so much, and last year I really struggled with that,” Stokes said. “But this year, I really embrace double teams because I can make the right play and I have teammates around me who can make plays as well.”
Stokes is finally getting the recognition that he deserves since he has shined on college basketball’s biggest stage. If Tennessee continues to advance, Stokes will likely be a big reason why and his coming out party will rage on.
NBA Daily: Four Prospects Ready To Rise In NCAA Tournament
Every March brings a collection of mock draft risers ahead of combine season, but there are four names worth your attention this spring, writes Ben Nadeau.
Ah, it’s almost that time of year, folks.
No, not just placing a bet on college basketball or filling out the winning bracket.
With conference tournaments set to wrap up this weekend, and Selection Sunday not far behind, the mental preparations for the big dance have already begun. Each season, like clockwork, a group of players seemingly raise their stock amongst fans ahead of workouts and the combine. Last season, of course, the largest beneficiary of the bright spotlight was Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo. During the NCAA Championship, DiVincenzo torched Michigan for 31 points on 5-for-7 from long range — then once he measured out well, it was all but settled. In a matter of two months, DiVincenzo had gone from a near-lock to return to college to a potential lottery selection.
But as Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler pointed out alongside his most recent mock draft, importantly, it was a combination of everything that vaulted DiVincenzo into the cultural forefront. With much of the collegiate sphere transfixed, rightfully, on Zion Williamson’s return to Duke, plus his renewed efforts with top prospects Cam Reddish and R.J. Barrett, most of the collective draft class has just slipped on by. So although scouts may have a handle on the NCAA’s very best prospects, there are plenty of other cases worth adding to join to the pre-tournament hype conversation.
Given that March Madness kicks off on Tuesday, there’s no better moment to investigate the portfolios of some potential risers. Again, a stellar showing in the tournament won’t do it alone — but, regardless, these are four players that could do a ton of damage between now and the NBA Draft in June.
Eric Paschall, Villanova
Speaking of DiVincenzo, the Wildcats have sent a handful of players to the NBA over the last three years and senior Eric Paschall appears to be next in line. The 6-foot-8 forward bided his time alongside stars like Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson, but the former All-Tournament selectee has bloomed as Villanova’s main man. Over 32 contests, Paschall has averaged 16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.1 three-pointers per game, helming his now-depleted squad to 23 wins.
Although he hasn’t collected the same awards that Brunson did last year, NBA teams tend to love ready-to-contribute Wildcats, no matter their age.
Paschall will be 23 once his rookie year begins in the fall but he’s got big-game confidence and oodles of experience already. On Thursday, Paschall scored 20 points and 10 rebounds to pace No. 25 Villanova past Providence in Big East Tournament play. There are some concerns over his pro-level fit as a power forward, but his massively improved three-point conversion mark will definitely have scouts back on board.
Of note, Paschall was unanimously named to the All-Big East First Team and he’s currently heating up ahead of another deep Villanova run. Paschall’s fantastic put-back helped the Wildcats force overtime against Xavier on Friday, while his clutch three-pointer and subsequent free throws then iced it.
Jaxson Hayes, Texas
Texas’ newest rim-protecting impact player is the 6-foot-11 Jaxson Hayes — a well-executing shot blocker and walking highlight reel… sound familiar? While the comparisons to Jarrett Allen are simply unavoidable at this point, Hayes has been a worthy target alone based on his slow, but steady improvement throughout the 2018-19 campaign. Through 32 games, the freshman has averaged 10.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks on 72.8 percent from the field. Those standout numbers — blocks and field goal percentage — rank as 23rd and second-best in Division I, respectively.
In Hayes’ best performance yet, the big man pulled down 15 points, six rebounds and five blocks during a mid-season victory over rival Oklahoma. Earlier this month, Hayes was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, an honor recently bestowed upon Trae Young, Josh Jackson and Myles Turner. Along with Allen and Turner, Haynes joins Mohamed Bamba as highly-rated former Longhorns with huge professional-level projections — that’s not bad company to keep.
Unfortunately, at 16-16, Texas now faces an uphill battle to even reach the big dance. Much worse, Hayes played just 14 minutes before leaving the game with an injury during their loss to No. 3 Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday. Head coach Shaka Smart said he hoped “it’s not extremely serious” but a status update has not been revealed as of publishing. However, as an athletic leaper and instinctual defender, Hayes remains one of the top long-term projects, injured or not.
And with moments like these, it won’t be long until the country takes notice as well — even if he’s sadly done for the season now.
Tre Jones, Duke
Of the names on this list, Tre Jones’ line is certainly the least jaw-dropping — 8.9 points, 5.4 assists and 2.1 steals — but he’s been the fourth mouth to feed behind the Blue Devils’ trio of future top five picks. Still, Jones has been a steadying force for the star-studded side, even seeing a healthy uptick in the three weeks that Williamson was sidelined. During Duke’s slim loss to North Carolina a week ago, Jones chipped in with nine points, five rebounds, seven assists and two steals.
With Williamson back in the lineup versus Syracuse on Thursday, Jones dropped 15 points and eight assists — which, long story short, proves the court general is good no matter who is on the floor. While those statistics aren’t enough to push Jones into lottery territory, the 19-year-old point guard has some promising upside for a team with less ball-dominating assets already.
Although head coach Mike Krzyzewski dreams of a sophomore year return, Jones’ laser-sharp distribution and above-average defense will make him a popular name this spring. Jones’ 3.73 assist-to-turnover ratio is third-best in the entire nation and his ability to drop picture-perfect passes to Duke’s sky-walking dunkers has made them appointment viewing all season.
And if you’re feeling some slight déjà vu right now, that’s for good reason. Back in 2014-15, Tyus Jones, Tre’s older brother, was an electric playmaker for a Blue Devils team that won it all. But if you see Tre knocking down important, pressure-laden shots like Tyus once did, don’t be surprised — that clutch gene still runs in the family.
Jaylen Nowell, Washington
This foursome has covered nearly every corner of the scouting conundrum checklist thus far: Hayes? Too raw. Paschall? Too old. Jones? Too underutilized. While those are all things that front offices may eventually look past when drafting those three in June, Jaylen Nowell falls into zero of those buckets.
Nowell is 19 years old, just won Pac-12 Player of the Year and seems poised to lead Washington to their longest tournament run in over a decade. Heading into the postseason, Nowell is leading the Huskies in points (16.5), assists (3.1) and three-point percentage (44.9), while the guard is their runner-up in rebounds (5.4) and steals (1.2) too. Uncoincidentally, Washington’s 25 wins are the most the college has finished with since Isaiah Thomas led them to 26 and the Sweet 16 in 2009-2010.
In 2018-19, Nowell has topped 18 or more on 15 separate occasions, including a massive 26-point, six-rebound effort against the likely No. 1 overall-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs. Nowell is an incredible dribbler and the sophomore has put plenty of talented defenders on skates — but he’s also been largely hidden in a subpar conference this season. Fundamentally strong, Nowell has shot below 40 percent in just five of Washington’s 32 games so far.
Consistent and reliable, he’ll be their go-to star in the NCAA tournament without a doubt. Before long, the rest of the country will recognize him as one too.
Zion Williamson has been deservedly tough to look away from this season — but collegiate basketball’s biggest showstopper has robbed onlookers of some other incredible narratives as well.
Whether that’s the scrappy lead guard throwing alley-oops to Williamson on the daily, a forgotten National Champion or a budding first-rounder on the opposite coastline, March Madness is shaping up to be another worthy runway for takeoff. Unfortunately, Hayes will likely miss out — even in the now-unlikely circumstance that Texas is selected — but his agile, smooth skillset as a near seven-footer will make him a sought-after interview come draft season.
Between now and April — through a mix of their tournament efforts and combine measurements — an elite group of prospects will rise up mock draft boards once again. Who will it be this year?
NBA Daily: Five Tournament-Tested Prospects Worth Watching
With the NCAA Tournament in the rearview mirror, here are five tournament-tested prospects worth keeping an eye on.
After nearly a month of relentless basketball, the NCAA Tournament is finally in our rearview mirrors — which means all the focus has turned to the upcoming draft process. While many of this class’ top prospects have already been identified, everything outside the lottery largely remains a mystery at this time. However, many on-the-bubble candidates stepped up during their respective tournament runs. From leading the way in the tournament final to sparking an unexpected run to the Elite Eight and everything in between, these players have all made themselves interesting options headed into some of the key spring months.
Jevon Carter, West Virginia
West Virginia’s strong tournament run ended in the Sweet 16 at the hands of the eventual champions, but senior Jevon Carter thoroughly proved that he’s a prospect to watch. Carter racked up six and five-steal games against Murray State and Marshall, respectively, to open up the tournament, and that wasn’t all. Over those two contests, Carter finished with a total of 49 points and 13 assists, even hitting on 5-of-8 attempts from deep. Beyond being named to the Consensus All-American Second-Team this spring, Carter has taken home back-to-back NABC Defensive Player of the Year honors as well.
His calling card is absolutely tenacious perimeter defense, but the West Virginia star is no slouch offensively. Carter averaged 17.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game on 39.3 percent from three-point range during the 2017-18 season — so what’s not to love? He’ll be 23 years old by the time his rookie season rolls around, but the Mountaineer’s lengthy award resume and impressive tournament set him up mightily moving forward. As an experienced, hard-nosed defender with a steady three-point shot — not dissimilar to Malcolm Brogdon in recent years — Carter could be a steal this June.
Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler has Carter slotted in at No. 29 overall in his most recent mock draft.
Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova
Of course, the man of the hour was bound to make an appearance on this list. Although it may appear as if Donte DiVincenzo came out of nowhere, Wildcats fans have watched him torch opposing defenses for quite some time. DiVincenzo markedly improved in each of his three seasons at Villanova, and he currently holds an average of 13.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game on 40.1 percent from three-point range. He’s been overshadowed thus far by recent draftee Josh Hart and the newly-minted College National Player of the Year, Jalen Brunson, but DiVincenzo stole the show against Michigan.
DiVincenzo dropped 31 points on 5-of-7 from three-point range, part of a red-hot second half run that buried the Wolverines for good. As the reigning Big East Sixth Man of the Year, DiVincenzo is no stranger to these types of nights — but if he wasn’t on draft radars yet, he definitely is now. The Wildcats’ streaky shooter has the size and athleticism to bother opposing teams should he take his impressive run into next month’s combine.
But the program’s continuity is what earned Villanova two national championships in three years, so DiVincenzo remains a compelling candidate to return for his senior season. With Brunson heading to the NBA, DiVincenzo could-be the go-to star on another talented roster — that alone may be too tempting to pass up. Either way, DiVincenzo has outgrown his playful “Michael Jordan of Delaware” moniker, but this may just be the beginning for another standout Villanova prospect.
Tony Carr, Penn State
If you’ve not yet heard of Tony Carr, you will soon. Trae Young and Collin Sexton have earned high remarks all year, but Carr is a point guard to watch out for — just ask the entire NIT field.
As Penn State’s featured guard, the 6-foot-5 scoring machine helped the Nittany Lions take home their second NIT crown in the last decade. During Penn State’s title-clinching blowout of Utah, Carr registered a near-triple-double with 15 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds. If that wasn’t enough, Carr led his fourth-seeded squad past Mississippi State the round prior after tallying 21/5/6 — more or less cementing his already intriguing draft status.
But unlike most younger players, Carr has already stated his intention to sign with an agent ahead of the draft. This decision would eliminate the possibility of Carr returning to Penn State should the next month go awry — but his confidence is at an all-time high. At a recent press conference, Carr noted that most of the current draft projections have him going somewhere in the mid-to-late first or early second round — and it’s not hard to see why. In 2017-18, Carr averaged 19.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and five assists on 43.3 percent from three-point range — contributions that would earn him a well-deserved spot on the All-Big Ten First-Team.
In one of the cooler subplots of the season, Carr led Penn State to three consecutive wins against Top 25-ranked Ohio State over the span of five weeks, flat-out dominating with 27.6 points per game. For franchises that need an explosive guard but don’t have the means to grab one of the studded lottery picks, Carr should be a hot commodity further down the draft board.
Keenan Evans, Texas Tech
As of late, it’s been Zhaire Smith quickly rising toward the lottery conversation — but don’t sleep on Keenan Evans, Texas Tech’s top scorer. After averaging 17.6 points and 3.2 assists in 2017-18, Evans was named to the All-American Consensus Second-Team alongside the aforementioned Carter and likely lottery selection Miles Bridges. When Evans scored 20 or more points, the Red Raiders went 13-1 — but when he scored fewer than 10, that record drops to just 1-4. Like Carter, Texas Tech’s tournament ended against Villanova — but Evans’ recent play will keep him on front office radars nonetheless.
Prior to their Elite Eight loss to the Wildcats, Evans took down 23, 22, 16-point efforts against SF Austin, Florida and Purdue, even outscoring Smith on all three occasions to boot. Best of all, Evans showed promise from three-point range, a skill he’ll no doubt need at the next level. During the regular season, Evans converted on just 32 percent of his looks from deep. But over that three-game tournament run, the prospect hit on five of his nine attempts (55.5 percent). A small sample size, surely, but it’s always noteworthy when prospects show progress on the game’s biggest stage. Evans is a senior, so he’ll look to build momentum during the upcoming combine — but he has a knack for scoring, something that professional benches will always scour the class for.
Tyus Battle, Syracuse
Last but not least, there’s Tyus Battle, a 6-foot-6 sophomore-year guard that propelled a surprise Syracuse Orange team into the Sweet 16. After leading Division-I with a tireless 39 minutes per game, Battle was on the floor for every minute of Syracuse’s play-in victory over Arizona State. In fact, Battle didn’t miss a single second of the Orange’s four tournament games — making the scorer extremely well-tested already. Battle can get going in a flash and notably recorded 29 points on 6-for-11 from downtown in a mid-December win over Georgetown. More recently, of course, were Battle’s 19 points and five assists in their tournament-ending loss to Duke.
As of now, Battle has not yet announced if he’ll test the NBA waters — but nobody would blame him for gauging interest after his stellar season. Battle averaged 19.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game as Syracuse’s go-to scorer and playmaker. Due to his high offensive usage, Battle’s field goal (39.9) and three-point (32.3) percentages aren’t where they need to be quite yet — but there’s plenty else to like here. Battle will likely be deployable in many flexible roles at the next level and his defense — albeit not often highlighted given Syracuse’s zone defense — shows promise as well.
Of note, Kyler currently has Battle going with the No. 22 overall pick. A formidable combine performance could shoot Battle into draft contention — so keep an eye on him.
With the NBA Draft Combine set to take place on May 16, expect many of these tournament-tested prospects to continue rising upward. For seniors like Carter and Evans — or those who will sign with an agent like Carr — they’re entering a crucial portion of their basketball journey. Present commodities like DiVincenzo and Battle will likely stick their toes in the water — but they’ll always have the option to head back to promising programs. Either way, these five players are certainly worth watching as their quest to play at the next level begins anew.
Devin Robinson Flourishing in Spotlight
Florida’s Devin Robinson has picked a perfect time to put up career performances, writes Cody Taylor.
Florida Gators forward Devin Robinson picked a great time to tie a career high in scoring.
With the Gators fighting to advance deep into the NCAA Tournament, Robinson scored 24 points to help lead the Gators to an 80-65 win over East Tennessee State on Thursday.
“He was a big factor,” teammate Kevarrius Hayes said. “We always love his hustle. Everybody has those nights and I’m just glad he had one. He is probably right there with one of the hardest playing people we have on the team so I feel like tonight was his night to shine.”
Robinson paced the Gators in scoring throughout the game, coming out of the gate to throw down several highlight-reel dunks and set the tone offensively. He scored eight of his 10 first half points within the first five minutes of the game.
“My teammates just found me,” Robinson said. “I just came out here and I knew that we had to win or go home so my teammates found me in the right positions and it gave me the confidence to just let the ball fly.”
East Tennessee State never seriously threatened the Gators in the game. The Bucs grabbed their first lead of the game to begin the second half, but the Gators responded and opened up a 16-point lead to seal a trip to the next round against Virginia tomorrow.
The Gators entered the tournament with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, having lost three out of their last four games. Many around the country projected East Tennessee State to knock off Florida in the first round as the No. 13 seed.
As is the case each March, college basketball fans around the country are constantly looking for a potential upset. With the Gators playing inconsistently toward the end of the season, many believed they were a possible candidate to suffer a defeat.
The Gators were aware of the outside chatter and were happy to play “spoiler” as the higher seed.
“We heard on ESPN and all of the other bracketology type stuff that we were going to be the first upset,” Robinson said. “That put a chip on our shoulder. We knew we just had to come out here and prove everybody wrong once again. That put everything into perspective and we knew that we just had to take care of business.”
Playing in the national spotlight, Robinson surely didn’t disappoint in his first tournament game. He looked to be the best player on the court for most of the game, and gave fans watching at home a great look at why he’s a likely draft pick come June.
Robinson withdrew his name from draft consideration last year and opted to come back to school for his junior year. While his averages of 10.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and one steal per game don’t necessarily jump off of the page, he has improved in each year at Florida.
Perhaps the biggest area of his game that has improved is his shooting. His three-point percentages have increased in each year. He shot just 25.6 percent his freshman year but improved to 34 percent in his sophomore year and 38.9 percent this year. He was 21st among all players in the SEC in three-point shooting.
With the Gators up by just one early in the second half, Robinson knocked down three-point shots on consecutive trips down the floor to help extend the lead to seven points and put the Gators up for good. He finished 2-of-5 from three-point range.
Improving his shooting has been a point of emphasis over the past few summers.
“[Shooting] was a big priority of mine,” Robinson said. “It actually got better this past summer when I was injured. I just focused more on my form and just put more arch on the ball and just being more comfortable with where I am as a player and my shot. My guys out here are finding me so that just helps me 10 times more.”
Listed at 6-foot-8, Robinson appears to fit the standard for a big man in today’s NBA. He flashed a little bit of everything yesterday against East Tennessee State and was efficient in doing so. He has great athleticism for his size and is a capable defender.
“When he wants to, he runs like a deer,” head coach Mike White said. “When he’s in space, he’s got the ability to get his feet set and make jumpers, and he can really straight line-drive it, of course. He can take off before physicality and explode to the rim. He’s a really talented guy.”
Robinson entered the tournament ranked eighth in DraftExpress’ juniors rankings and is projected to be drafted No. 41 in the second round. Of course, many prospects have helped improve their draft stock the deeper their team plays into the tournament.
While a decision beyond this season likely hasn’t been made yet, it doesn’t sound crazy to think Robinson could enter his name for draft consideration this year. If the Gators can go on a run in the tournament, and Robinson can continue to shine in the spotlight, we just might see his name called in the first round.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you.