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Published: Friday, 4/11/2014 - Updated: 4 months ago

Rockets find point guard relief

Baltimore star expected to sign Wednesday, back up Brown

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

When Julius Brown was tabbed the Mid-American Conference’s top freshman in 2011-12, his coaches celebrated.

Tod Kowalczyk and his University of Toledo staff also braced for a sobering reality. The flip side to having the league’s best young point guard, Kowalczyk feared, was the challenge in acquiring an understudy at his position.

There is no gap tougher to fill in recruiting than at backup point guard, said Kowalczyk, who whiffed in the 2012 class, again in 2013, and for most of 2014.

The drought is over with the commitment of Baltimore prep standout Kamau Stokes, who quelled years of angst when he pledged to the Rockets last month.

Kowalczyk’s staff chased several point guards, only to be spurned in the early signing period by Wisconsin’s Reed Timmer (Drake), Detroit’s Edmond Sumner (Xavier), and Cincinnati’s Antonio Woods (Pennsylvania). Another point guard, Indianapolis’ P.J. Thompson, chose Purdue over Toledo last month.

That Stokes was still hanging around on Toledo’s board was a blessing, as the Rockets otherwise might have entered the post-Brown era led by a freshman point guard.

Stokes received 15 mid-major offers, including from Buffalo and Ohio, but chose to delay his commitment until the spring. He did not view Brown’s vast credentials as a deterrent.

“For me, I love competition,” he said. “I excel with that. I’m able to compete at the highest level. I’m coming there to fight for a spot.”

Stokes, who won Maryland state titles his junior and senior seasons, will sign a letter of intent Wednesday, the first day of the spring signing period. Chicago power forward Kurt Hall is also expected to sign, bringing UT to its scholarship limit. Already in the fold are Orlando shooting guard Stuckey Mosley, who signed early, and small forward Dre Applewhite, a transfer from Mississippi State.

Per NCAA rules, Kowalczyk is not allowed to comment on unsigned recruits.

Stokes, who said he’s 6 feet and 165 pounds, gives UT two true point guards for the first time under Kowalczyk, whose fifth team should be his most talented.

Brown, a first-team All-MAC honoree last year as a junior, has averaged 31 minutes or more in each season.

“Early in his career, recruiting another point guard was extremely difficult,” Kowalczyk said. “People know simply that he’s going to play, and play a lot. This year is a little bit different in the sense that a recruit understands he can learn from one of the best for a year and also hopefully play alongside him. I’m not opposed to playing point guards together.”

Stokes is billed as a flashy playmaker and a capable defender.

“I’ve been winning since my father first put a ball in my hand,” Stokes said.

Spring game set

The Rockets will hold their Blue and Gold Spring Football Scrimmage on Saturday at the Glass Bowl.

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. Admission is free. Fans can park in either Lot 10 or Lot 9, and should enter via Gate A (west side of stadium near press tower). Fans are asked to use caution around the construction site at the Larimer Building.

UT players and coaches will sign autographs after the game in the West Concourse. Prior to the game, the Rockets hold a clinic for youth in eighth grade or younger from 11-11:45 a.m. The clinic is free. There is no need to register. Just show up at 11 a.m. at Gate A.

Toledo will open its season on Aug. 30 at home against New Hampshire.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.



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