Prior to the start of the season it appeared Shaquille Stokes would be the last player to have the ball in his hands with a chance to win the game.
In Hofstra’s home opener friday night, Stokes had the ball with under 10 seconds left in a tie game against South Dakota State, a team that went to the NCAA Tournament last season.
“I wanted to be the one to take a shot,” Stokes said. “Even though I knew Stevie [Mejia] and Turan [Buie] wanted it, I felt like I had to take that one.”
Stokes drained the three pointer with three seconds left, delivering the first of three wins over the weekend for the Pride in the 2K Sports Classic Hempstead subregional. On Sunday Stokes scored 10 of his career-high 26 points in the second overtime to lift Hofstra to a 103-100 win over Conference USA opponent Marshall. He would share co-CAA Player of the Week with Towson’s Jerrelle Benimon.
“It’s been a fun roller coaster,” Stokes said after Sunday’s game. “But I still want to enjoy the ride.”
The journey Stokes took to get to be on the court friday night was not easy. After spending less than a year at Hawaii and transferring to Hofstra, Stokes waited to hear from the NCAA on a Hardship Waiver so he can play closer to his family in New York City.
Stokes said that most difficult thing for him was the wait to find out whether or not he would be able to play.
“It was real tough for me at first in the summer,” Stokes said. “Building chemistry with the guys is fun at first but then not knowing if I was going to play or not was kind of hard on me.”
“I really didn’t practice hard sometimes during the season, I must admit.”
Stokes hurt himself during the preseason, spraining his ankle in practice prior to the season starting.
Complicating the situation further was that head coach Mo Cassara was busy balancing a roster with a large group of new faces; a group that includes four transfers and five freshmen.
“We’re basically thinking he’s not going to play so we’re trying to get the guys ready that we do think are going to play,” Cassara said. “That’s a really challenging thing as a staff where we have to focus a little more on some of the guys and give some of those guys a little more reps and that was a difficult thing for him.”
Stokes is one of four new transfer players this season for the Pride. Penn State transfer Taran Buie played his first three games for Hofstra this weekend after sitting out a suspension for violating team rules. UConn transfer Jamal Coombs-McDaniel sat out as well with a suspension but is currently nursing an injury. Daquan Brown, a Fresno State transfer, will become eligible in December.
On November 7th, two days prior to Hofstra’s season opener at Monmouth, the answer Stokes had been waiting for came at an inopportune time. Cassara called Stokes, who was napping across campus, and told him he needed to see him as soon as possible.
“I was actually asleep before practice,” Stokes said. “I wanted to get a quick nap in so then I could head over to practice get some shots up but coach just kept calling me saying it was an urgent message, had to see me ASAP so I just ran over there and when he told me the news I was in shock.”
“He walked into the office with our whole staff there and knew that something was either really wrong or really good,” Cassara said. “I told him we have a problem we got to talk about and his head kind of sunk down. I told him we’ve got to get him a plane ticket to go to Purdue and he was just thrilled and kind of shocked at the same time.”
Shocked at his eligibility, Stokes said that when he walked in to the room with the staff he thought Cassara would have good news waiting for him.
“When I walked in the room, Coach had this kind of smile but they tried to hide it,” Stokes said.
“Once I found out I was able to play I was just happy the burden was off my back.”
After meeting with the coaches and going through practice, Stokes called his mother and father to pass along the good news.
“It means a lot to me,” Stokes said of receiving the waiver. “I felt like God works in mysterious ways and would give me the opportunity when he could. Only something good can happen in return.”
Friday night Stokes found himself in a situation he had not been in since playing at Lincoln High School in Brooklyn. With rhe game on the line and the ball in his hands, Stokes sealed Hofstra’s first win of the season with a three pointer over the outstretched arm of Chad White. Stokes’ team-high 26 points Sunday helped the Pride defeat Marshall Sunday.
Stokes has started each of the last four games after getting his first start the previous sunday at Purdue. He scored 6 points in his first start at Purdue and has improved each game culminating in a career-high 26 Sunday.
“He got his feet underneath him and got some confidence and was able to perform at a high level down the stretch for us.”
Stokes played 103 out of 130 minutes Hofstra played over the three day weekend as well as scored the Pride’s final five points in their friday win. Add that to 11 free throws made Sunday, more than he’s ever attempted in a college game, and Stokes’ has continued to fill up the stat sheet.
Cassara said that Stokes has continued to adjust over the last week in practice and is beginning to show it in games.
“He’s done a great job over the last week of really listening and really understanding what we’re trying to do,” Cassara said. “If he continues to do that and really buy in and listen and continue to work harder. All those things are still a part of his progression and if he can continue to do those things he’s going to be a great player in this league and help us win a lot of games.”
For now Stokes said he would continue to work to improve at his game and help getting the team better.
“I just want to take every day and keep working hard,” Stokes said. “I know it’s five games into the season and we’re looking good but its still a long season up ahead of us. We still have a lot to learn, we got a lot to get better on but right now I’m happy with how I’ve been playing and also my teammates.”