KNOXVILLE — Heralded Tennessee freshman Jarnell Stokes needed only 31 seconds to begin making a good impression in his college debut Saturday. Barely a half-minute after entering the game, he scored over Kentucky's Eloy Vargas on a post-up.
Less than two minutes later, Stokes hit a 15-footer over Terrence Jones.
"My time is now," Stokes said of his nine-point, four-rebound debut.
A 6-foot-8 250-pound man-child, Stokes did not turn 18 until last weekend. His hometown of Memphis made him a John Calipari fan.
"I grew up a Cal fan in Memphis," Stokes said after Kentucky beat Tennessee 65-62. "Cal was the man back then."
Calipari was still the man when Stokes made a recruiting visit to UK.
"He definitely offered me a scholarship," Stokes said of Calipari. "But they didn't have a scholarship on the table because he was unaware I was graduating early."
An honors student, Stokes graduated last month from Southwind High School in Memphis. He gained his college eligibility earlier in the week.
"I thought I was ready to come play (for UK)," he said. "I could have come and redshirted."
Stokes said he decided to take the scholarship Tennessee offered and, with it, the chance to play.
"I feel I'm still a kid," he said. "You're asking a kid to sit out a year. I don't think that's going to happen."
Stokes impressed both sides in his 17-minute stint.
"Makes them a way better team," Calipari said.
Noting how Stokes energized UT and a sellout crowd, UK freshman big man Anthony Davis said, "He's really going to be a key factor for (the Vols)."
Stokes also made an immediate impact in the second half. After entering the game at the 15:50 mark, he drew a foul on Terrence Jones while jockeying for post-up position nine seconds later.
"He wasn't intimidated at all," Tennessee Coach Cuonzo Martin said. " ... It's tough, tough against that level of talent to be able to pick things up so quickly, the different schemes, and not have a lot of time to prepare. I thought he did a tremendous job."
'Good floor game'
Freshman point guard Marquis Teague had an unimpressive stat line: one assist, five turnovers, seven points.
But Calipari was pleased.
"Marquis Teague guarded," the UK coach said. "This was the first game he guarded."
Teague was aware that UT point guard Trae Golden had averaged 20.8 points in the previous four games. In that span, Golden had made 13 of 23 three-point shots.
"'I'm going to guard my man and make this tough on him,'" Calipari said of Teague's objective. "And he did."
Golden made only one of six shots, missed all three of his attempts from beyond the arc and finished with a season-low two points. It was only the fifth game all season he did not make a three-point shot.
"He had a good floor game," Calipari said of Teague. "He just got a couple sloppy plays."
Of a charging call on Teague, the UK coach said slyly, "Not one I'm worried about, especially when the (defender) slides a good slide."
Lamb off bench
For a second straight game, Calipari used leading scorer Doron Lamb off the bench.
"To make him fight for that spot," the UK coach said. "Fight!"
Calipari acknowledged that Lamb can play better. The sophomore guard made only one of seven shots and finished with four points. He's had only one game with fewer points: two, against Arkansas last season.
But even without scoring, Lamb can contribute, Calipari said.
"No one in this league will say, 'Leave him alone' (on the perimeter)," the UK coach said. "So they have to play him. That opens up the court."
Senior Darius Miller came through in the clutch. His two free throws with 19.4 seconds left put the Cats ahead 64-60 and made victory seem likely.
"He's a veteran," Davis said. "He's been doing this for four years. He knows how crowds get."
Tennessee nearly became the third straight opponent to outrebound UK. That had happened only twice until South Carolina (30-32) and Auburn (29-35) won the battle of the boards against the Cats. Calipari was not impressed by UK's 35-32 rebounding advantage.
"In reality, when there were tough balls to get, they got them," Calipari said, "until maybe the very end."
Going into the game, Teague, Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ranked among the league leaders in minutes played in SEC competition. Teague logged the third-most minutes (35.5 per game), while Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist were among those tied for sixth at 33.5.
Those averages were inflated on Saturday as Kidd-Gilchrist played 39 minutes, coming out only when he appeared to slip on a wet spot. Teague and Davis played 38 and 35 minutes, respectively.
"Too many minutes," said Calipari, who noted how he'd like to find more playing time for Kyle Wiltjer and Twany Beckham.