As has been speculated for some time, 2012 power forward Jarnell Stokes plans to enroll early, starting college after he graduates from high school this winter. The news was confirmed by Stokes' father in an interview with Cats Illustrated ($ - premium link). Stokes is looking to decide on a college by Christmas, thereby giving him time to enroll at his school of choice and be eligible to play starting in January 2012.
Stokes had transferred to Southwind High School in Memphis to play his senior season, but was ruled athletically ineligible by the state. He reportedly had been looking at alternative options for his final year of high school basketball (possibly enrolling out of state at a school like Word of God Academy). But because he's academically as well as athletically gifted, Stokes also had the opportunity to graduate early. Give the young man kudos for putting himself in a position to succeed, not just on the basketball court but also at life.
Stokes is ranked 17th by Scout, 1th by Rivals and 18th by ESPNU, so he's plenty talented. Enrolling early would take away a year of eligibility, but if all goes according to plan for Stokes, he won't be a four-year player anyway. He will, however, get an opportunity to play early and possibly contribute to a championship-contending ballclub like Kentucky or Florida.
Along with those two SEC schools, Stokes also officially visited Arkansas, Memphis, and Tennessee. Hometown school Memphis is considered the favorite, But a late charge by Kentucky head coach John Calipari has the Wildcats squarely in the mix. Stokes has also been linked to Connecticut, although the Huskies don't have an available scholarship (see: the Andre Drummond-Michael Bradley fiasco).
It appears that Kentucky doesn't have an available scholarship either. The Wildcats currently have 10 full-time scholarship players, and transfer Stacey Poole counts as number 11 despite no longer being with the team. Earlier this fall, Kentucky awarded walk-ons Jarrod Polson and Twany Beckham one-year scholarships, filling the class for the 2011-12 season.
That's unfortunate, because Stokes could be a great addition to the Kentucky roster. As a physical inside presence, he looks like a better post scorer than any current Wildcat, aside from possibly Kyle Wiltjer. Unlike Wiltjer, Stokes looks college-ready as a post defender and rebounder, but would struggle with ball-handling on the perimeter within Kentucky's motion offense.
Conceivably, Stokes could immediately slide in and compete for backup minutes at the 4 along with Wiltjer. That could be critical in games like the Indiana loss, where Kentucky's two primary big men, Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones, were saddled by foul trouble and ineffectiveness, respectively. Further, a serious injury to either Davis or Jones could be devastating to the team's Final Four hopes. Having Stokes as another big body would help mitigate disaster in all of those scenarios.
Coming to a team like Kentucky could also be extremely beneficial for Stokes. He would get an extra semester of practice and game time with the team, putting him in the driver's seat to land a starting spot next fall. Further, he would get an extra semester course load, important for a student-athlete likely seeking an eventual undergraduate degree regardless of NBA prospects. Finally, Stokes could very well experience a National Championship run and end up putting a ring on his finger (I know--I've already knocked on wood).
With all that said, Stokes may not want to pay his own way for a semester, and it's very possible that Kentucky isn't his first choice anyway. It looks like we may find out shortly.