Jarnell Stokes will be the first to say that it has been a struggle at times this season.
With such lofty expectations going into his sophomore season following a breakout freshman campaign, he is trying to stay positive moving through the SEC schedule and as he tries to find his game.
"It's been frustrating at times and it's been a battle," Stokes said. "But all of the guys in the locker room have stuck it out and stayed focused."
Consistency is key for Stokes who has had a tendency to follow a big game with a lackluster performance the next time on the floor. Stokes finished the game in Oxford, Miss., with just six points and four rebounds after an 18-point, 11-rebound showing at home against Mississippi State.
"I didn't really play my game at Ole Miss," said Stokes. "I got in foul trouble early and really (had) to back off because I didn't want to foul out."
But it appears as of late that the Tennessee post is starting to hit his stride, even with the down performance against the Rebels.
Saturday afternoon, Stokes' 15-point and 18-rebound performance helped lead the Vols (10-8, 2-4 SEC) to an important win over Alabama. Beyond just the numbers, the effectiveness of the big man against the Crimson Tide freed up opportunities for other Volunteers to score down the stretch.
Jordan McRae – who had just two first half points – finished with a team-high 17.
"We didn't do a whole lot different in the second half," McRae said. "They were playing their zone really high in the first half and we were able to get the ball into the post to Jarnell (Stokes) and Kenny (Hall). We were getting a lot down there so in the second half they dropped their zone down to try and stop it which freed up some outside shots and some driving lanes."
Stokes repeatedly faced double and triple teams, and on one occasion had four Alabama players collapsing around him.
"I'm a player that likes to read the defense then pick and choose my times to attack," Stokes said. "I enjoy passing too. I think I got away from that at some points during the season trying to force my offense."
During Tennessee's four-game losing streak, Stokes averaged nine points and eight rebounds with games of six and four points, but head coach Cuonzo Martin believes he is starting to come out of his slump.
"It's been a struggle," Martin said. "I think more mentally than anything. He's been in games but he's such a competitive player. You want to be successful. You have all of the accolades from a statistical standpoint. You finally feel like you're playing the way you're capable of playing. It's good to see. I'm so happy for him."
Stokes still has much to prove, and the Vols are still just 2-4 in the conference, but players and coaches are excited about where the team is heading.
"We started 2-4 last year and we finished second (in the SEC)," Stokes said. "It's a different season but we know what we can do, so we have lots of confidence we can get it done."
"Mental prep continues ... but they've been putting the work in, and when you start seeing results it pushes you on," Martin said.