MEMPHIS — Jarnell Stokes makes no bones about it. He’d love to stay home and play for his favorite team. His trips around Memphis would now include his seat belt, and his FedExForum seat would be a big upgrade.
"I grew up watching them. I was a season-ticket holder in the nose bleed just three years ago," Stokes, the former Tennessee forward, said following a pre-draft workout with the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday. "It’s surreal right now being able to work out for them."
Stokes, listed at 6-foot-9, 263 pounds on a Grizzlies handout (but 6-foot-7 without shoes at the NBA Combine), is a Memphis native, an early graduate and honors student at Southwind High School. He turned a five-minute interview into a Memphis Convention and Visitor’s Bureau radio spot and beaming endorsement for the city. He’s a projected late first-round pick in the June 26 draft, and he’s been busy: fresh from working out in Phoenix and only a couple of weeks removed from a car wreck that gave him a concussion.
"I’m enjoying the process, but there’s no place like home," Stokes said. "I love Memphis. I get the jitters still coming home. I grew up in this environment. I think Memphis is a very good place. I think a lot of people look at Memphis as too much crime, First 48 and things like that. But I grew up here and I came out just OK. I think it’s a very good place."
Stokes’ brother Isaiah is an equally stout sophomore at Memphis’ Lausanne Collegiate. The elder Stokes fits a size 20 shoe and only turned 20 years old in January. So his upside is high. He’s a load to stop on the block, much in the vein of current Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph, who the team is trying to re-sign, presumably for a pay cut.
Stokes says he looks up to Randolph, as well as the Pacers’ David West, and knows he needs to be more consistent with his jumper — he shot 53 percent last season when he averaged 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.
"I think I was able to show things that I wasn’t able to do in college," Stokes said of the workout. "I think I showed that I was more explosive and did pretty good at defense today."
Stokes was part of a six-man workout that included Louisville’s Russ Smith, Florida’s Casey Prather, Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels, Xavier’s Semaj Christon and Baylor’s Isaiah Austin. Stokes was 43 pounds heavier than the next in line, the 7-foot-1 Austin. He outweighed Smith by 103 pounds.
Monday’s workout was Memphis’ third of the draft process. The Grizzlies have the No. 22 pick, and while a scorer is again on the agenda, back-in-the-fold GM Chris Wallace and head coach Dave Joerger also have to be wary that while Randolph will very likely end his career here, that end is in sight. Randolph is a 13-year veteran.
Stokes has his faults — one being a knock on his lateral speed — but he brings a lot more positives than negatives. He says he’s probably more explosive than Randolph.
"I love the grit and grind mentality. They play with a lot of heart. They get after it. That’s one of my strengths," Stokes said. "It would be surreal if I can come in and back up a guy like Z-Bo and push a guy like Marc Gasol every day, guys that I just grew up watching here."
Stokes thinks it could happen. Some think McDainels, a 6-foot-6 guard/forward is the target.
Before the combine, Stokes’ frame was questioned. But he showed just eight percent body fat in Chicago.
"I don’t know, for some reason people thought I was like 6-foot-5 and people thought I would have like 20 percent body fat. It just doesn’t make sense. I’m ripped underneath this jersey," Stokes said. "I’m glad my measurements are finally out there. I don’t have to read anymore disturbing tweets. I’m tall and big enough to be a matchup at the 4-spot."
His car wreck happened en route to Miami from Tampa Bay, on his way to watch the Pacers visit the Heat. He still has the scratches on his left arm from the wreck and says doctors told him he would be out for three or four weeks. He made that a week.
"I just took NyQuil and slept all day and next thing you know, I’m back in a week," Stokes said. "I didn’t have my seat belt on. It could have been worse."
Memphis could do worse. And while there are plenty of options at No. 22, Stokes is one of the good ones.
"I’m not soft, but I have a great heart. I’m a very good kid. I was raised right," Stokes said. "I grew up in Whitehaven, the hood, but my parents sort of sheltered me and kept me out of that environment. I look at guys like Zach Randolph, has a great heart and he’s very tough-minded on the court. I think I can do things like that. I’d love to learn from someone like that."