KNOXVILLE — Once Jarnell Stokes saw the good, he knew he couldn't revert to the bad.
The Tennessee forward finally flipped the switch, and he's kept it in the on position.
With five consecutive double-doubles, the Volunteers' powerful 19-year-old sophomore from Memphis is showing his dominant abilities with the consistency that was missing most of this season.
"After one of his first games where he got on this run," Vols point guard Trae Golden said before Tuesday's practice, "I heard a coach say to him, 'Now everybody's going to expect that out of you.' I think he took that to heart. Now that he sees he can do it, he can't go back to where he's not chasing down rebounds or playing hard or playing with a high motor.
"Once somebody said that to him, I think he got the gist of it and been on a roll ever since."
Stokes has averaged 17.6 points and 12 rebounds in those last five games, raising his averages to nearly 14 points and nearly 10 rebounds for 10 SEC contests. Stokes has nine double-doubles this season, with six coming in the last seven games. Jeronne Maymon registered nine last season, and Steve Hamer holds the program's single-season record with 10 double-doubles in 1994-95.
"He's rebounding balls outside of his area," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said of Stokes. "He's going and getting rebounds, and he's keeping those balls alive. That was something he really didn't do last year and something he didn't do early in this season."
Of Stokes' 60 rebounds in the last five games, 27 have been offensive rebounds. He had averaged 7.5 rebounds in the Vols' 17 games prior to his recent hot streak.
"It was just an effort thing, just committing to getting in better shape, and even when you are tired, not just falling for fatigue," he said. "I don't want to take any more plays off. That's something I told myself I struggled with [after] bad games.
"I think it really has paid off."
It's been a challenging year for Stokes, who perhaps misses the redshirting Maymon more than any other player. He's been double- and triple-teamed all season and struggled at the free-throw line, and his bruising nature led to many games in foul trouble. In eight games, Stokes failed to reach double figures in both scoring and rebounding, and Tennessee is 2-6 in those games.
"Once he figures out he can score the ball every time down, he can do whatever he wants to in the paint, really," guard Josh Richardson said. "The quicker he learns that, the better for us it'll be. He's definitely been playing up to his potential lately.
"If he can keep that up, I think we can go on a run."
Stokes' streak has coincided with Martin going to the SEC office regarding the way the big man was being officiated. During his five-game run, Stokes was whistled for only 10 fouls and collected more than two fouls just once.
"I feel freer," he said. "I think it's helped me out a lot just being able to post up without worrying about an offensive foul. I feel like I can be more physical.
"Not having that fear that you're going to get taken out because of fouls, I think that's helped a lot."
What's exactly changed with Stokes is hard to determine for anyone simply judging his demeanor and facial expression.
"You don't know if we're up 20 or down 20," Martin said, "because it never changes."
Stokes' production, however, has changed significantly.
"When you want to be the best, and especially when you can see signs that 'I can be one of the best, if not the best,' then there's the next push, to dominate games whether there's two or three guys on you or not," Martin said. "You more or less put guys on your back and you win games. That's the area we're moving into as a team, identifying that this is the guy that you have to go through in order to have a high level of success.
"It's also the work that he's put in. I couldn't have said that in the beginning of the season. Now he's a guy, every time down, we can put the ball in his hands to make plays."
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 ...