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Quiet Big Man : St. Bernard's 6-11 Ed Stokes Lets His Stats Speak

February 05, 1989|ROB FERNAS | Times Staff Writer

Ed Stokes, the agile giant of St. Bernard High's basketball team, was too involved in a heated Camino Real League game with Serra to notice the taunts raining down from the packed gymnasium.

"Stokes, you a joke," chanted a visiting group of Serra students. They said it over and over, trying their best to rile the 6-11 senior.

Tuning out the crowd, Stokes strode into the key and leaped to catch a teammate's looping pass, laying the ball into the basket before his size-16 shoes returned to the court.

End of chant.

The acrobatic manuever was another example of Stokes, a young man of few words, letting his actions speak for themselves.

"They call me names and stuff all the time," he said. "I just block it out."

By game's end, the statistics revealed the toll of Stokes' concentration: 30 points, 22 rebounds and four blocked shots in a 74-70 St. Bernard win.

Performances like that have become frequent this season. They serve not only to keep the Vikings atop the Camino Real League standings but also to convince Stokes' critics that he is a much-improved player from last year, when a pre-season hip injury stunted his development.

Don Mead, who scouts prep players for major colleges, questioned Stokes' toughness as a junior, saying: "Unless he changes his game, I don't think he's going to be a really big-time (college) player."

Mead has since changed his tune.

"He's concentrating on being a better team player and working a little harder than he has in the past," he said. "He still has a ways to go before he plays consistently hard, but he has shown signs that he's going to do that. For a long time, he didn't play hard."

St. Bernard Coach Jim McClune wishes Stokes showed more aggressiveness and vocal leadership on the court, but he admits that those shortcomings are outweighed by the contributions the 17-year-old center has made to the Vikings' success.

Entering this week, Stokes was leading the team in per-game scoring (25.5-point average), rebounding (16) and blocked shots (four). He ranked second in free-throw accuracy (94 of 130, 72%) and was among the top three-point shooters (six of 15).

Perhaps the most impressive statistic, however, is his 78% shooting rate from the floor, a telling sign that Stokes has improved his inside play and curtailed a tendency to drift outside for jump shots.

"I feel my inside game is coming along pretty well," he said. "I'm still working on it. I'm never satisfied with it. (But) I don't pay attention to the criticism. Only I know what the situation is."

Stokes shakes his head when he is reminded of last season. Inflammation of the right hip, a condition caused by his right leg being slightly shorter than his left, forced him to miss most of pre-season practice and several games.

When he returned, he wasn't the same player who had impressed scouts and college coaches during the summer of 1987.

"He was tremendously out of shape," McClune recalled. "He worked hard and pretty soon got in the swing of things, but I don't think he ever really got into shape. He never got his jumping back."

With Stokes out of the lineup, McClune changed the team's offensive plans, focusing more on quickness and the talents of forward Eric Nelson. By the time Stokes returned, he faced two obstacles: regaining his stamina and adapting to a new system that no longer featured the pivot man.

"It was an adjustment for everybody," McClune said.

In one of his first games back, Stokes played dismally in a non-league loss at Rolling Hills. His first shot hit the side of the backboard, and another try was blocked by John Hardy, Rolling Hills' 6-4 center.

"All I remember is scoring two points and losing the game," Stokes said. "I felt real bad. I knew I could play better, but my body wouldn't let me. It was real frustrating watching my teammates and thinking I could help them out and not be able to."

Things did get better. Stokes ended up averaging 17 points a game and helped the Vikings reach the semifinals of the Southern Section 5-A playoffs before losing to eventual champion Mater Dei, 87-70.

But it wasn't until last summer that Stokes finally gained his true form. He played well at several all-star camps and tournaments, reassuring college coaches of his status as a blue-chip prospect.

When the early signing period came in November, he picked Arizona over Syracuse, Louisville and UCLA. "I felt (Arizona's) Lute Olson would be a great coach for me," he said. "He'll help bring out the best in my game. Plus, I like the atmosphere at Arizona."

In the last decade, St. Bernard has been something of a basketball farm system. The Playa del Rey school has sent 21 players to four-year colleges since 1979. Forward Ronnie Grandison (Class of '82) became the first former Viking to play in the National Basketball Assn. by making the roster of the Boston Celtics this season.

Some believe Stokes is headed for the NBA as well.

"He probably has as much big-time potential as anybody we've had," said McClune.

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