Before the start of this year’s high school football season, Lausanne’s offensive/defensive lineman, Isaiah Stokes, had plenty of post-graduate options. Lynx football coach Kevin Locastro recalls most of them. “Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Memphis, LSU, Cincinnati were all recruiting him heavily,” he says. Stokes received a scholarship offer from most of them, including the Crimson Tide and the Seminoles.
But there was no need to rush a decision. Stokes had yet to even begin his junior year. Still he wanted to give a verbal commitment … to basketball. He told Locastro he was stepping away from the gridiron to focus on the hardwood.
Although, at 6-8, 280 lbs., Stokes was the centerpiece of the Lynx basketball team as a sophomore, he was not garnering the attention in hoops as he was in football. Back in 2012, USA Today called the then 8th grader, “possibly the scariest 8th grade football player ever” mainly because of his size. 247Sports.com still has him ranked as the 8th best recruit in Tennessee from the class of 2017.
So Locastro knew he needed to say something. “I understand (basketball) is his first love,” says Locastro. “I was supportive and want what is best for him. But I also wanted him to understand the opportunity he had moving forward in football. I wanted him to sit and compare those to the opportunities in basketball. In football he could play anywhere he wanted.”
But Stokes is comfortable with his choice. “I’ve put a tremendous amount of time in my decision and I am happy with my decision,” says Stokes. “Don’t get me wrong. I still love the game of football and I appreciate every college football team that has put their time in to recruit and offer me (a scholarship) but, with the resources and minds that I have to teach me basketball, I feel that I can find success in it.”
One of those minds he refers to is his big brother and Memphis Grizzlies forward, Jarnell Stokes, who had a similar decision to make when he was in high school. “Too many close calls, too many close injuries (in football),” Jarnell says of his choice to dedicate himself to basketball. “I was also a consensus top 20 recruit in the country in basketball so that made my decision easier.”
Yet Jarnell understood what was best for him when he committed to play basketball at Tennessee may not be the same for his younger brother. “I took him to Tennessee’s campus,” says Jarnell, “and he saw how some of those linemen looked. I said ‘Isaiah if that’s what you want to do you can do it. But if you want to play basketball you’re going to have to lose some weight.’”
Advice taken. Isaiah’s father, Willie Stokes, watched his son drop from 280 to 254 lbs. “He worked so hard” says Willie. “He really needed to, because he needed his wind more.” “He looks more like a basketball player now,” adds Locastro.
“He basically looked himself in the mirror and decided he wanted to play basketball,” says Jarnell. “He lost the weight and I’m proud of him.”
Having a brother who plays in the NBA helping monitor his conditioning drills and serve as a mentor doesn't hurt either. “The most important upside that my brother teaches is that most people in high school lack the knowledge of the game,” says Isaiah. “For example; how to read defenses, how to score anywhere on the floor, making the right plays, when to make the right pass and most important is how to win.”
Isaiah averaged a double-double in points and rebounds last year with the Lynx. Shedding nearly 30 pounds should make him even more of a threat this season. “His size is similar to mine, but his game isn’t,” says Jarnell, known for his physical play inside. “He plays like a point forward. I think he plays like (San Antonio Spurs forward) Boris Diaw. He’s a good ball handler. He can shoot lights out and he’s starting to show a real work ethic.”
Although he has yet to receive an offer from the Alabamas of the college basketball world, Isaiah is starting to gain more interest from Division I basketball programs like Memphis, Ole Miss, Tennessee, and South Carolina. And if for some reason he’s not happy with those options, there’s always football. “He still can be a great football player if he decides to,” says Willie.
“Our relationship hasn’t changed,” says Locastro. “Like I said, he could play anywhere he wants and that includes for us at Lausanne.