Grizzlies Hope Stokes Develops Into Next Z-Bo

By Don Wade

It’s unlikely that Jarnell Stokes was the only Memphis high school basketball player sitting in the upper reaches of FedExForum cheering on the Grizzlies and warming up to that new power forward that we all know as Z-Bo.

But Stokes, who entered the draft after his junior year at Tennessee, might have been the only kid that really understood what Zach Randolph was doing.

“He uses his leverage and finds a way to make it happen,” said Stokes, whom the Grizzlies acquired via trade on draft night after the Utah Jazz selected him in the second round with the 35th overall pick.

Memphis native Jarnell Stokes finds himself going from Grizzlies season ticket holder to second round draft pick and in a position to back up Zach Randolph for the next few years.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Today, of course, Randolph is about to turn 33 and fresh off signing a two-year contract extension that will keep him in the Grizzlies’ on-court employ through the 2016-2017 season for a total of about $36 million. With Randolph’s track record for production (17.4 points and 10.1 rebound last season) that’s actually a pretty good value.

Stokes, in a perfect world, is Z-Bo’s heir apparent. Randolph stands 6-9 and 260. At UT, Stokes was listed at 6-8 and 260; the Grizzlies list him as 6-9 and 263. Whatever he is, Stokes seems to know how to get the most out of what he has, especially when there is a rebound to be had.

“He’s a power player,” said Grizzlies interim general manager Chris Wallace.

A shorter than optimally desirable power player, but Grizzlies vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger can tell you exactly why that’s not a major concern. Even Stokes’ conventional numbers from last season help make the case: 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds.

“Rebounding tends to translate very well from college to the pros and so we’re really confident,” Hollinger said. “But even more than that, the type of kid he is and the way he plays is very positive in terms of him being able to grow his game.”

Best example: the Nov. 12 Tennessee at Xavier game.

“It was probably the worst game he had all year,” Hollinger said. “He had no points at halftime; he was in foul trouble. What impressed me is the way he came out in the second half. He didn’t force anything. He stayed within the game.

“His demeanor stayed the same,” Hollinger continued. “Obviously, he was probably a little bit frustrated. But it didn’t affect how he approached the game. Even as their go-to guy, he didn’t force it when they were all collapsing on him and making his life tough. He kept trying to make the right play and not go outside the game to get his numbers. That stuck with me.”

His final line in that 67-63 loss: 2-for-6 from the floor for four points; four rebounds; two assists; two turnovers; three blocks; one steal, and he fouled out in playing just 20 minutes.

“It’s important to know with these guys what kind of chance they are going to give themselves to get better and become the type of player you need them to be,” Hollinger said of draftees. “Jarnell gives himself that chance with his work ethic and all his intangibles.”

One of the intangibles: his genetic history. Stokes checked into the game of life weighing a cool 11 pounds, 3 ounces.

“I had him natural,” said his mother, Shunta, who was a volleyball player at White Station High


“That would suggest a high degree of toughness,” said Hollinger, who probably didn’t have to crunch a lot of numbers to reach that conclusion.

Hollinger also says that watching Stokes on film there already are traces of Z-Bo in his game.

“He has some of that, where he’ll push the defender off him a little bit without it being an offensive foul,” Hollinger said. “There’s certainly a subtlety to that and he’s going to need that to get his shots off in the post at his size.”

For his part, Stokes had his nervous moments as the draft’s first round was winding down and his name wasn’t being called.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I feel I was one of the best power forwards in the draft.”

But his mom added another layer to the scouting report that suggests this slight – if Jarnell wants to view it that way – can be a good thing.

“He’s always been motivated,” she said. “When he wants something, he goes for it.”

And Jarnell Stokes wants to be in the NBA for a long time. He’s happy to be playing for the hometown team, sure, but just as he was smart enough to know what he was watching when Z-Bo first came to the Grizzlies, he’s smart enough now to understand the advantages in his opportunity here.

Randolph and center Marc Gasol are built-in mentors.

“Those guys can teach me things,” he said. “None of that stuff you did in college matters anymore. It starts all over again.”