Tennessee's Trae Golden, Derek Reese and Armani Moore, left to right, help teammate Jarnell Stokes up off the floor after taking a charge from Mississippi State's Craig Sword in the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday. Tennessee won 72-57 over Mississippi State.Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
KNOXVILLE — Jarnell Stokes saw Derek Reese's sweet shooting stroke result in made 3-pointers plenty of times in Tennessee's practices.
The Volunteers forward was skeptical his freshman teammate could turn the same trick in games.
He doubts no more.
"As far as having an impact like that in the game, I really didn't see it coming," Stokes said before Tuesday's practice. "I knew he could make [shots], but there's a difference between a practice player and a game player."
The 6-foot-8 forward from Orlando has hit a 3-pointer in all five of his appearances since returning from the torn labrum in his right shooting shoulder that wiped out the first half of his rookie year. Reese has made some big shots in his brief career, and Tennessee will need more treys from him as it tries to take down 23rd-ranked Ole Miss tonight in Oxford. The Rebels, one of two SEC teams with unblemished marks, waxed the Vols in Knoxville two weeks ago.
That was Reese's second game back, and he scored seven points with one long-range make.
While he's already shown his outside-shooting ability, Reese still is adjusting to playing inside.
"I felt confident in my game, but I wasn't too confident about battling inside because I know I lost a lot of strength," he said. "I'm still working every day getting used to that and getting used to learning how to use my body more. I'm getting better each day.
"I expected it to be really tough and real physical and the speed to be a lot faster than what I'm used to, but I'm adjusting to it and it's getting better each game. It's starting to get normal to me, but it's still tough. It's still really tough battling inside."
The shoulder injury left Reese's right arm in a sling for six weeks. He was limited to lower-body work during that period, and while his limitations had little effect on his conditioning, it cost him 15 pounds. His weight down to 212, Reese is learning how to use his frailer frame against paint pounders like Ole Miss senior Murphy Holloway, who scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against Tennessee two weeks ago.
"Here's a guy that didn't have a lot of practice reps under his belt," Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said. "You lost about 15 pounds with his shoulder surgery, so now he doesn't bang at the level he needs to bang, but he's so skilled, so he makes up for it. Now you've got to identify him on the floor, especially on the offensive side of the ball, because he can move it, he can make shots, he can make plays.
"It wasn't a case where he was in practice -- he wasn't involved. A lot of times he was over getting rehab, so he wasn't even seeing practice. It was kind of in games, 'I'm learning as we go.'"
In his debut, Reese made two big 3-pointers in Tennessee's comeback win against Xavier. In the last two games, he hit a go-ahead second-half trey at Kentucky and hit three triples in the Vols' decisive 13-2 run against Mississippi State. He's shooting 38 percent from 3-point range.
The freshman's perimeter skills essentially give the Vols a fourth guard on the floor when he's paired with Stokes, Yemi Makanjuola or Kenny Hall, and his ability to spread the floor can help Tennessee's offense, as can his ability to make perimeter shots.
Martin went to a four-guard lineup against undersized Mississippi State and likes that particular lineup, and Reese believes his abilities can help Tennessee's offense flow more.
"This year the shots are there for anybody that wants them," Stokes said, "because they double-team me and they're doing a good job guarding [leading scorer] Jordan [McRae] now as far as teams scouting him. The 3s are there. He'll definitely get a lot of open shots this year."
Stokes and the Vols now believe Reese will make them, too.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...