Fair or not, all of this was expected of Jarnell Stokes.

The consensus five-star recruit gave Tennessee Volunteer fans the best Christmas present possible back on Dec. 22, 2011, when he announced he would enroll early in Knoxville instead of Florida, Memphis or Kentucky.

And at the perfect time, too — the Vols were 4-6 and coming off losses to Oakland, Charleston and at home against Austin Peay (yikes) to begin the Cuonzo Martin era.

At that point, the average overzealous Vol fan draped a world of responsibility onto Stokes' Michelin-Man shoulders to be the driving force in putting UT basketball back on the map.

And through all the ups and downs, he knew Friday after announcing decision to leave Knoxville and enter the NBA draft that he had accomplished that feat.

"I felt like at the time (I arrived at UT)," Stokes said at his NBA draft announcement Friday, "the state of Tennessee, the university, needed a player like me to come in and sort of get a little media attention and change things.

"And now all of the sudden, we're expected to win games instead of losing."

The Vols lost five of its six top scorers entering 2011-12 — Martin's debut year. Cameron Tatum was counted on to be the team's offensive star, and averaged 8.1 points per game while shooting 35 percent from the field.

In all, the Vols played 17 players on the season — more than in any of Bruce Pearl's seasons and a bigger sign of their roster instability than anything else. It took out-of-nowhere stellar seasons from Trae Golden and Jeronne Maymon for the Vols to be able to beat any team with a pulse early on.

Saying Tennessee basketball was in bad shape when Martin took over would be like saying Derek Dooley wasn't great with last-second defensive substitutions.

Enter Stokes.

He made his UT debut on Jan. 14 — aptly as the Vols were beginning their SEC slate. The same team that lost seven games out of conference finished second in the SEC as Stokes started 14 conference games.

As the Vols have grown as a team in Martin's tenure, so has Stokes.

He stepped his game up as a sophomore. Despite missing post buddy Jeronne Maymon for the entire year, Stokes was the go-to weapon alongside Jordan McRae and finished averaging 12.4 points and 9.6 boards a game.

But while the Vols and Stokes both made strides in year two, neither was quite there yet. Tennessee hadn't gotten back to the NCAA tournament, and its fans were letting the program know. Stokes hadn't proven himself as a sure-fire NBA player, and scouts had made that clear when he flirted with the draft in the offseason.

So Stokes' plan was simple — come back, keep the gang together and make a deep NCAA run while working on his game and proving critics of his game wrong.

To the surprise of anyone who watched the regular season, and to the disdain of some of UT's own fan base, that eventually happened.

Stokes' comments after the Vols' NCAA tournament win over Mercer — which guaranteed a spot in the Sweet 16 — said it best.

"It's a surreal feeling," Stokes said. "Because when Coach Martin and these guys started playing and myself came here, Tennessee basketball was dead. And now, to be back in the Sweet 16, it's a great feeling."

Stokes is a reserved person. Even on the court for the Vols, in spite of his burly, aggressive style of play, he wasn't a vocal leader and never really participated in the "rah-rah" emotion of Maymon and Jordan McRae — other than that typical wide grin after making a big play.

Although, if any one player can take at least a small portion of the credit for Tennessee basketball's resurgence under Martin, it's Stokes. He's been a model of consistency, development and character, and his departure will be tougher to rebound (pun intended) from than any of the Vols' recently-departed seniors.

So yes, Tennessee basketball was indeed dead when Stokes arrived. That might even be an understatement considering the drop-off in hype after the Pearl days.

But one 6-foot-8, 260-pound Christmas present back in 2011 was just the spark that Martin and company needed to bring it back to life.