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NBA PM: Jarnell Stokes Adjusting, Living Out Dream

Jarnell Stokes is adjusting to the NBA, but also living out his dream of playing for his hometown Memphis Grizzlies.

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Stokes Adjusting to NBA, Living Out Dream

Jarnell Stokes stopped and got chills. He was staring a sign in the Memphis Grizzlies’ FedEx Forum that indicated only players and coaches were allowed beyond a certain point in the arena’s tunnel. Many players barely notice the sign as they continue moving and go about their routine. But Stokes had seen it many times as a kid rooting for Memphis, wishing he could go to the private area and interact with his favorite players. Now, he was finally one of the players granted access. That’s the moment it hit him that he was in the NBA and had accomplished his life-long dream of playing for his hometown organization

Stokes had seen that sign as a child because he was often in the FedEx Forum growing up. Born and raised in Memphis, he loved the Grizzlies long before they acquired him on June 26, 2014 – the night of the 2014 NBA Draft. Stokes began supporting the team when he was young, cheering for them back when they had players like Pau Gasol and Jason Williams and donning Memphis gear throughout his childhood. He would attend games as a fan, supporting the organization through the good and bad times. Stokes was loyal and passionate about the team, especially since the Grizzlies were Memphis’ only major professional sports franchise.

Stokes was selected with the 35th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz and immediately traded to the Grizzlies. Once he found out he was landing back home and staying near his friends and family, the disappointment of falling into the second round faded and he became thrilled.

The fans in Memphis have really embraced the 21-year-old hometown product and want to see him succeed, which means a lot to him. Stokes’ role on the Grizzlies has been limited this season. He’s appeared in just 16 games and is averaging only 5.6 minutes, but that’s life for a rookie on a veteran-laden, contending team. The fan support and his individual desire to meet expectations have helped him stay positive and continue working, even when he’s not playing in games.

“I think the biggest thing that helps me is the fans that help me stay motivated and are wanting to see a home kid thrive,” Stokes told Basketball Insiders. “Also, I don’t want to let down [Grizzlies general manager] Chris Wallace and the owners that took this chance on me. A lot of guys don’t get to play at home, so he must think I’m a high character kid. I don’t want to let him down. I want to keep my head up high and just make sure I’m always doing the right thing.”

While he hasn’t appeared much during games, he’s getting the opportunity to constantly practice against the NBA’s best frontcourt of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, which has been an excellent experience for him. Playing against two All-Stars every day can only help a rookie who wants to learn.

“I pick up on a lot of their tendencies, especially Z-Bo,” Stokes said. “I watch him all the time and I’ve guarded him; I feel like I pretty much know his game. I just pick up on certain things that he does. The way he scores the ball, it’s just amazing. It’s just small things like him getting away with a lot of contact, but you got to realize that he can do that. He plays with his legs a lot and people think, ‘Oh man, he’s being very physical,’ but no he’s using all butt and legs. I’ve picked up on things like that, which I had no idea about in college.

“I think that they’ve helped me out a lot as far as just being able to understand the game and play it the right way. They are big on this whole basketball gods thing – you hear them say that a lot because they believe if you play the right way, if you go out and make a dive for a loose ball and make a play like that for your team, the basketball gods will reward you down the road with a three or something like that. Things like that is just something that you can learn from these veterans.”

Adjusting to a diminished role was tough for Stokes initially, since he was a star player at every stop throughout his basketball career until this season. Last year at Tennessee, he emerged as one of the best players in the nation, averaging 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds. He was even more dominant during the NCAA Tournament, averaging 18 points and 12.8 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the field and leading the Volunteers to Sweet Sixteen. He finished the season ranked eighth in the country in win shares and finished second in double-doubles among all Division I players.

To go from that kind of success to not playing at all on most nights is frustrating. Stokes is an intense competitor so he finds it difficult not being able to contribute during games. However, he understands why he isn’t playing and is just trying to learn as much as possible and stay ready so that he can make a difference when his number is called.

“It was hard for me at first,” Stokes said of not playing. “The first couple games, even just in the preseason, I was like, ‘Man, I’m going to have to do this all year?’ It was tough. I was coming home just mad and I had to learn that this is the way it’s going to be and that I can learn from this and that God has me in this position for a reason. I’ll have my opportunity [eventually] and I feel like there are some things I can work on now, so I can get better. I’m just working on those things so I’m ready the next time my name is called.

“[I’ve learned to] just be locked in. In my free time, I just think about that moment when I’ll get a chance to play and things like that… I condition before every game so whether I play or not I feel like I’m still conditioned. Things like that help me stay confident.”

Not only are Stokes’ minutes limited, as a rookie he’s the low man on the totem pole in the locker room. Veterans like Zach Randolph and Tony Allen have a reputation for being hard on rookies, and Stokes said it’s been tough dealing with some of the abuse.

“The biggest surprise to me would probably be the emotional part of it off the court – guys treating you like you’re a rookie,” Stokes said. “You’re no longer just this good player; wherever you got drafted, it doesn’t matter anymore. I’m playing behind All-Stars [Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph] and another talented big in Kosta Koufos who started in the league, so it’s just how you get treated. You just have to emotionally stay [strong].”

Stokes says there has been a lot of rookie hazing throughout the year. For example, he could get a call from a veteran anytime – day and night – asking him to run an errand.

“[Hazing includes] singing happy birthday, always having to be to the gym first, Z-Bo and Tony are always asking me to do certain things where I’m getting two o’clock in the morning calls, stuff like that,” Stokes said. “If you let it irritate you, you won’t be able to make it in this league.”

A player’s first year in the NBA is usually pretty rough. Many players just spend their first season getting adjusted to the NBA, and then by year two is when they’re finally able to contribute and start realizing their potential. Stokes may not be playing much this year since he’s on a loaded contender, but being around dominant All-Stars and part of a winning culture should benefit him greatly in the long run.

At the end of the day, he’s living out his childhood dream of putting on a Grizzlies jersey every day. He’s also getting the chance to go to every single game; now, his seat is slightly closer to the action. It’s only a matter of time until Stokes emerges as a key member of the Grizzlies, and he’ll be one of the players that some kid imagines meeting while standing in the Fed Ex Forum tunnel.

Marion Will Retire After This Season

We are currently witnessing the final season of Shawn Marion’s illustrious NBA career. The veteran, who signed a one-year deal worth $915,243 with the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer, announced that he will retire after the conclusion of this season.

He will walk away after playing 16 seasons in the NBA, and he has an excellent resume that includes a championship (2011 with the Dallas Mavericks), four All-Star appearances, two All-NBA selections and plenty of impressive statistics. He’s the only player in NBA history to record 15,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 1,000 blocks and 500 three-pointers.

He feels like it’s time for him to retire, especially now that he has an eight-month-old son he wants to spend more time with.

“I wanted to go out on my terms,” Marion said, according to Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic. “The biggest thing is having a son. I got attached to him. Seeing him periodically is hard. Watching him grow up on pictures and videos is hard.”

Marion looks back on his career fondly, particularly his nine-year stint with the Phoenix Suns during which he became one of the best players in the NBA.

“I was able to grow as a player and watch the city grow at the same time,” Marion said of his time in Phoenix. “I really wish I could’ve won a title in Phoenix. When you spend that much time with an organization and do what I did there, you feel like it’s part of you. The fans there know I came to play and laid it on the line.

“It was a special time. Those were special fans in Phoenix. It’ll always have a part of me. I’m always going to keep a place there.”

Marion will certainly be a Hall of Fame candidate and he will be remembered as a versatile, two-way player who filled the stat sheet.

“It’s been a great ride,” Marion said. “I really wish I could’ve brought a championship to Phoenix. But it was awesome.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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