Florida’s Isaiah Stokes chose basketball over promising football future due to CTE risks

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Isaiah Stokes was a coveted football recruit with interest from major SEC programs like Alabama and Auburn, a promising left tackle with a prototypical frame that made it easy to project his potential for a long future in the sport.

Instead, he shifted gears and made basketball his future. That’s why he’s at Florida now, a 6-foot-8 freshman forward rehabbing his way back from a torn ACL and hoping to make a contribution in the second half of this upcoming season.

His brother, Jarnell Stokes, played basketball at Tennessee for three seasons from 2011-14 and reached the NBA, but following the family path wasn’t the only reason or even the main reason for the younger Stokes’ decision to leave football behind.

“It definitely wasn’t an easy decision because I would say [as a] left tackle I was getting recruited by Alabama and Auburn and the real big schools. Football was fun, football felt like also home, but I also stopped playing with all the health issues coming out about football just taking years off your life, you know what I’m saying? I just didn’t want to be a part of that,” Stokes said Tuesday at Florida basketball’s media day.

“What really made me wake up to that was it was a San Francisco player that just quit. … After I seen him just leave the league, he was good, it was crazy. That’s what really woke me up.”

Stokes was referring to former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, who retired in March 2015 after a productive rookie season while citing the CTE head-trauma risks associated with the sport.

According to an ESPN.com story during Stokes’ recruitment, he gave up football after his sophomore season. Stokes said Tuesday that he weighed 315 pounds when he was still a left tackle at Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Tenn. He says he dropped 60-70 pounds in 3-4 months after giving up the sport, and while he’s back up to 280-290 pounds now he hopes to get down to 250-255 by the time he returns to the court.

He had surgery to repair a torn ACL last Feb. 2 and jogged for the first time Monday while being cleared to take the next step in his rehabilitation.

Florida coach Mike White said Tuesday that Stokes is on pace to potentially play in January, but he added that the Gators still could opt to redshirt him and delay his debut until next season.

Stokes said he wants to play this season, but he also wants to be cautious. He noted that he synced his rehab schedule to that of Florida center John Egbunu, who tore his left ACL in the middle of last February. That built even more time and precaution into the recovery process.

“Since I’m young coming in, I definitely want to save my legs because it’s my first injury I ever went through. … I really don’t want to reinjure it,” Stokes said.

He explained for reporters Tuesday how the injury happened.

“I was in the mid-post, I spinned baseline and then I took a bully bounce — a bully bounce is when you take one dribble into the defender — but also I slipped on some water. So it was really non-contact,” he said. “I took the one dribble, slipped and I was on my heel on my right foot and I was falling. So basically I was still trying to score too so my thigh came to like my calf muscle. I felt it pop. I tried to walk off, I did walk off the court, but I knew something was wrong. Very wrong.”

Stokes, who finished up at IMG Academy after deciding to focus on basketball, was ranked a 4-star recruit and the No. 122 overall player in the Class of 2017, according to the 247Sports composite. He committed to Florida early last December, choosing the Gators over Tennessee, North Carolina, Iowa State and TCU.

His brother’s connection with the Vols played no role in his decision, he said.

“I made it a business decision instead of an emotional decision. Everybody thought I would have went to Tennessee just because my brother went there, but I came to win and get to the next level,” he said.

“He didn’t want to be in my recruiting decision at all. He didn’t want to influence me one way or another. He wanted me to make my own decision, like a business decision instead of just listening to all the hype.”

That was surely a tough decision for the promising forward, but not any tougher than the first major decision he made about his athletic future.

Asked if he was content with his choice to leave football behind for basketball, Stokes didn’t hesitate.

“Yeah, no doubt,” he said.

The post Florida’s Isaiah Stokes chose basketball over promising football future due to CTE risks appeared first on SEC Country.

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