It will be different for Isaiah Stokes, that’s for sure.
He’ll be different.
Instead of shuffling out onto the floor and heading directly to the bench, he’ll be in the lay-up line when Florida starts its basketball season in a little more than a month. And eventually, he will play again, putting on display an offensive skill set that is just a rumor right now for Gator fans.
They’ve seen plenty of Stokes. They’ve seen him in sweats on the bench. They’ve seen him cheering on his teammates. But as a player, he is an unknown.
“It’s definitely going to be weird, running out there and getting called into a game in front of thousands of people,” he said. “I’m excited for it.”
Stokes suffered a serious knee injury on Jan. 26 of 2016 while playing for Bradenton IMG Academy. A few days later he had surgery and sat out all of last year rehabilitating.
His weight, naturally, crept up over the 300 mark he used to weigh when he played football. His wind vanished.
“I didn’t run for 14 months,” he said this week. “I’ve only been running for two, three months. I feel like I’m on a good track. I had to learn how to run all over again.
“I completely didn’t know how to run. It was a wild experience.”
Instead, he leaned on a fellow fallen teammate John Egbunu — who also missed last season — for advice.
“I took last year as a mental challenge,” Stokes said. “It was good to have Johnny at my side showing me the way around. We spent a lot of time together. We would watch film together. He’s a bright guy.”
Stokes has lost a bunch of weight — he estimates 30 to 40 pounds — but still has a long way to go. Running again helped.
So did getting off carbs.
“I used to eat a lot of carbs not realizing they just turned to fat,” he said. “I had to get off rice and pasta, bread.”
So he was asked several times at UF’s basketball media day about his weight. What do you weigh now? How much have you lost? The questions kept coming.
“It’s fine,” he said. “Sooner or later, you’re going to stop because I’m going to get right.”
Coach Mike White hopes that is sooner than later. Florida lacked an interior presence, especially one with the skill set Stokes has around the basket, during last season with three big men on the mend.
“He’s not up to par with the rest of the team in conditioning,” White said. “He’s trying. He’s battling. He’s in way better shape than he was two months ago. There is a lot to be proud of.
“He’s competing in the half court at a hundred percent. But I know that when we start going full-court consistently he’ll be able to just play in spurts, of course, and we don’t want to risk anything, of course, when he’s not in great shape either. So it’s a work in progress.”
Stokes spent a lot of the down time working on shooting with his left hand — his off hand — to give him more versatility when he gets the ball in the paint.
“The positives that he could bring us immediately are his hands, his girth, his skill level, and not only shooting it, but passing it, decisions,” White said. “He’s a very talented offensive player.”
The key word there is “player.”
Stokes wants to be a player again instead of a spectator. He wants to make his brother, Jarnell, proud. Jarnell Stokes played at Tennessee and is battling to make a comeback of his own with the Miami Heat.
But mostly, Stokes just wants to be part of a team again.
“The toughest part was just being around the team and not feeling where you are a teammate,” he said. “The court is where you go to war. It’s where you build bonds, you see where people’s heart, mind and soul is.
“I was always the jokester in the locker room. But my presence wasn’t there fully because I wasn’t on the court.”
Who: Florida vs. Florida State in the Fresh from Florida Sunshine Showdown
When: 9 p.m. Nov. 6
Where: Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, Tallahassee
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM
Note: The date marks the earliest season opener in UF men’s basketball program history.