Stokes, Tennessee frontcourt could pose big problem
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 6:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 10:10 p.m.
Florida coach Billy Donovan is aware of the threat Tennessee sophomore center Jarnell Stokes presents inside for the Vols.
Who: No. 8 Florida Gators (22-4, 12-2 SEC) vs. Tennessee Volunteers (16-10, 8-6 SEC)
When: 9 p.m.
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn.
Gainesville-area TV: ESPN
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
Donovan and UF assistant John Pelphrey recruited the 6-foot-8, 270-pound Stokes out of Southwind High in Memphis, Tenn. And last June, Donovan selected Stokes for the U.S. 18-under team that won the gold medal at the FIBA Americas championships in Brazil.
“He was a really good team guy, committed to winning,” Donovan said. “Obviously his size and his strength is a major factor with him in the way that he plays. I thought he was very effective, did a lot of different things on our team on both ends of the floor, rebounding, scoring. I can see from watching film this year, he's gotten and continues to get better.”
Stopping Stokes will be a priority for the No. 8 Gators when they face the Vols Tuesday at Thompson-Boling Arena. It's hard to believe Stokes just turned 19 last month, considering how he's manhandled opposing SEC frontlines this season.
Stokes has recorded double-doubles in scoring and rebounding in nine of Tennessee's last 11 games.
“He provides a physical challenge for everybody,” Donovan said. “He's a big, strong kid. He does a lot of good things around the basket. He's a good rebounder. Probably the best thing about him — besides a great body — is he's got tremendous hands and that's certainly something in traffic, posting up, rebounding, playing through contact, is probably one of his greatest strengths."
For a Florida frontline still thin without junior forward Will Yeguete, Stokes presents a huge challenge. The Gators are second in the SEC in rebounding margin, but have been out-rebounded in each of their last two games. That's understandable, considering UF's biggest player off the bench is 6-foot-6 Casey Prather.
Florida junior 249-pound center Patric Young said Stokes “has a football player's body” and is preparing for another heavyweight battle in the post.
“It's just going to be a challenge just like any other night,” Young said. “I've got to go out there and do my job, hopefully stay out of foul trouble.”
Young is coming off a 14-point, 7-rebound effort in UF's 71-54 win Saturday over Arkansas.
“If Patric is off the floor with foul trouble and we're having to play four guards that's a problem,” Donovan said. “There were times in the game where we had (Erik) Murphy in the game with Prather and we've got (Kenny) Boynton, (Mike) Rosario and (Scottie) Wilbekin and we're just small. There's going to be challenges there and we've got to collectively do a better job there."
Like Florida, Tennessee has dealt with injury issues. The Vols have played the season without senior center Jeronne Maymon, who had his way inside against the Gators last season. In Tennessee's two wins against the Gators in 2012, Maymon averaged 13.5 points and nine rebounds.
Without Maymon to complement Stokes inside, Tennessee struggled to a 3-6 start in SEC play. But the Vols have won five straight since, including a 30-point home win against Kentucky.
“Those two guys (Stokes and Maymon) were really physical,” Young said. “It was a challenge last year because they were able to beat us twice. Not having him was a small setback to their team, but they are doing really well without him right now.”
Tennessee is coming off a 93-85 four-overtime win over Texas A&M in which starting point guard Trae Golden played 56 minutes. But considering Florida's lack of depth, it's hard to fathom the Gators taking advantage of any potential Tennessee fatigue issues. Donovan announced Monday that shooting guard Michael Frazier II (concussion) is out for the Tennessee, leaving the Gators with just six healthy players from their normal eight-player rotation.
Donovan said one of his three remaining scholarship freshmen players — forward DeVon Walker, guard Braxton Ogbueze or guard Dillon Graham — will need to step up and play a role off the bench.
“We need to be prepared for them to go in and play a few minutes and do what they can to help,” Donovan said. “I think they're excited about the opportunity. It'll be a great challenge for them. They feel like they've worked hard for this.”
Frazier, Yeguete updates
Donovan said Frazier passed some of his baseline concussion tests and resumed light physical activity Monday. The coach said Frazier is questionable for UF's home game Saturday against Alabama.
“It probably wasn't as severe as maybe first originally thought, but I still know there's a protocol they all have to go through with the doctors and trainer, steps they've got to go through in order for him to be cleared,” Donovan said.
The news is more encouraging on Yeguete, who continues to go through sprints and shooting drills without swelling in his knee. Donovan said Yeguete, who underwent surgery to remove bone chips Feb. 8, will return to practice “in some form” Thursday. But he does not know if Yeguete will be cleared for contact by Thursday, or cleared to play Saturday against Alabama.
“The thing that's been most challenging for him is that they've got a special knee brace that he's wearing and he does not like it,” Donovan said. “It's kind of restrictive, it's something he needs to get used to, and most players don't like playing with something on them like that. But he's got to get used to that.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or email@example.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Sr. 12.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg
G Mike Rosario 6-3 Sr. 13.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Jr. 9.1 ppg, 5.4 apg
F Erik Murphy 6-10 Sr. 12.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Jr. 10.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg
TENNESSEE PROBABLE STARTERS
G Armani Moore 6-5 Fr. 2.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg
G Trae Golden 6-1 Jr. 12.3 ppg, 4.1 apg
G Jordan McRae 6-5 Jr. 14.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg
F Josh Richardson 6-6 So. 7.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg
F Jarnell Stokes 6-8 So. 12.8 ppg, 9.0 rpg
Notes: Florida goes back on the road, where the Gators are 7-4 this season. … The Gators have lost six of their last seven at Thompson-Boling Arena. … Florida ranks third in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 53.1 points per game. The Gators have held 11 opponents under 50 points and 19 opponents under 60 points. … The Gators are shooting an SEC-high 38.8 percent from 3-point range while making 8.9 3-pointers per game. … Florida senior guard Kenny Boynton (1,925 career points) is five points shy of tying Andrew Moten (1,930 points) for second on UF's all-time scoring list. … Tennessee is 11-3 at home this season and 5-2 at home in the SEC. … The Vols are shooting .438 from the floor and .319 from 3-point range. …. Tennessee senior Skylar McBee is a 3-point shooting threat off the bench. McBee is shooting 34.7 percent, while junior Jordan McRae is shooting 34.5 percent from beyond the arc. … The game will serve as a homecoming for Florida junior forward Casey Prather, who is from Jackson, Tenn.