NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Isaiah Stokes was a 6-foot-8, 310-pound left tackle from Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Tenn., who held offers from Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee and Ole Miss. People close to him were telling him he could be a $10 million dollar man on the gridiron.
Instead, Stokes, the younger brother of former Tennessee Volunteer and NBA player Jarnell Stokes, decided to follow in his brother’s footsteps and play basketball. He set out on a journey to turn himself into the type of player that would start getting offers from the top-notch basketball programs.
“It was tough starting out. I came a long way,” Stokes said at the Peach Jam, which serves as the finals for Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League. “I was 310 and a left tackle in football. I had a lot of offers in football, but I felt my heart in basketball, so I had to lose about 60 pounds.”
The work hasn’t gone unnoticed as SEC schools are once again lining up to land him.
South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M are some of the SEC basketball programs that have already offered Stokes, who is now listed at 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds. However, he’s still looking to earn a few more Division I offers.
“When I started playing football, they were dropping off me because I picked up weight and got slower. My footwork was good, but I was just way slower,” Stokes said. “Now that I’ve lost more weight and I can move better and guard, my offers are looking good.”
It helped that the Memphis native joined Team Penny, one of the premier programs in the Elite Youth Basketball League. He credits the league and playing with other sought-after recruits – Kentucky targets P.J. Washington and John Petty – for helping his game grow.
Another bonus of playing for Team Penny was getting to work with Penny Hardaway. The former NBA star serves as the director/assistant coach of the program and has spent a lot of time working with Stokes. Hardaway said Stokes has “probably the best footwork in the EYBL,” a league that features several of the top-100 recruits in the 2017 class and beyond.
“Isaiah has worked. I’ve been with him a lot working tirelessly on his conditioning. His footwork is amazing,” Hardaway said. “He’s an outside shooter and inside post guy. He does a lot of great stuff down there under the rim, and he knocks that 16-18 footer down consistently”
The football coaches are still in contact from time to time, but Stokes doesn’t seem likely to change his focus as long as the basketball offers keep rolling in. He said he’s just going through the process right now and plans to start making visits to schools soon.
“They’ll (football recruiters) call me and DM me every now and then. It’s understood that I’m not playing football, but if basketball doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to it.”