Corey Stokes has a tattoo on his right bicep that reads "Jersey's Finest." The 6-foot-5, 210-pound from St. Benedict's High School in Newark certainly lived up to his ink at the Southern Invitational tournament. In fact, the class of 2007 may be one of the nation's finest in his class after he shined alongside some of the top prospects at several AAU events this spring.
Just 16 years old, Stokes already possesses a body that is suited for the college game. Thick-chested and well-sculpted, Stokes doesn't shy away from physical play on both ends of the floor. His best strength is his dead-eye shooting. On championship Sunday at the Southern Invitational, Stokes was the offensive force on the wing that helped the Playaz claim the coveted title.
Stokes says his game has improved over the last month thanks in part to playing along side Wayne Ellington, Gerald Henderson, Earl Clark and Luis Guzman. Wearing a Playaz jersey also holds a responsibility of maintaining a high level of play that the program's alumni has already established, he says.
"It's been real good to play for a program that has had J.R. Smith, Alex Galindo, Sean Singletary and guys like that," Stokes said. "It makes me play better because they raised the bar so high."
J.R. Smith, a former member of the Playaz, is also helping Stokes with his game. The New Orleans Hornet shooting guard has taken the youngster under his wing.
"Since I've been at St. Benedict's, I've been working out with J.R. Smith while he's been back in Jersey," Stokes said. "Just playing with him makes me work harder and play better. It's a great experience working out with someone like that."
Some in New Jersey even believe Stokes is better than Smith, a 2004 McDonald's All-American, at this stage of development. The whispers may be right. Stokes has a confidence in his game that only the best of the best have.
"I think I'm the best player in the country," Stokes said. "But I know I've got to match up with guys like Billy Walker or O.J. Mayo but I saw them play (against Tyreke Evans) and they are pretty good. I'm just waiting to play them."
Stokes will have a chance to prove his worth against the nation's best at the ABCD camp, USA Basketball Youth Festival and the NBA Players Association camp. He'll take to the court with the best of the best there.
Surprisingly, his recruitment is filled with early offers. Stokes says Rutgers is the only school to put a free ride on the table. That could change soon. The rising junior said Connecticut, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest and Villanova are tops on his list right now.
Kansas, Wake, Duke, Georgia Tech, Villanova, Rutgers, Florida and Pittsburgh all came by St. Benedict's in April to see Stokes as well as teammates Lance Thomas and Eugene Harvey.