When healthy, Kamau Stokes uses three main statistics to evaluate himself after games. Show him his points, his assists and his turnovers and he will give you a fair grade within seconds.
Stokes, a junior point guard, takes pride in having more assists than turnovers (his goal is a 6-to-1 ratio) and he likes scoring (his career high is 23 points).
But things change when he plays hurt.
“I don’t really look at the stat sheet anymore,” Stokes said Wednesday inside Sprint Center, where K-State will face TCU at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. “I need to focus on what I can control and not worry about anything else.”
Few college basketball players have gone through more than Stokes this season. He was one of K-State’s three main stars for the first 15 games, helping the Wildcats start 11-4 by averaging 13.4 points and 4.6 assists. Then he broke his left foot on a freak play against Texas Tech.
K-State coaches initially prepared for the worst. It seemed like Stokes had suffered his second season-ending injury in three years. But unlike the torn ACL that kept him off the court as a freshman, he only needed three weeks to recover. Doctors inserted a screw into his foot and he was back in the rotation for a road game against West Virginia after a seven-game absence.
That’s the good news. Now the bad: Stokes is no longer the distributor or shooter he was once.
Playing at less than full speed and full strength, Stokes has averaged 3.4 points, 2.2 assists and 1.6 turnovers while coming off the bench in nine straight games behind starting guards Barry Brown and Cartier Diarra.
Stokes' best games used to feature 20 points and nine assists. Now 11 points and five assists seem notable. He has gone scoreless three times and had more turnovers than assists in three games.
“It’s totally different for him,” Wildcats coach Bruce Weber said. “He was one of our leading scorers and now … Shooting starts with your legs, and he still doesn’t have them yet. He needs four weeks of workouts and conditioning to get back.
“But he can still be solid and get us into our stuff. I keep telling him, ‘If you have an open shot, step up and shoot it. Just make the right plays and be intelligent. At the end of the game, be our brains.’”
This would be an ideal time for Stokes to play solid basketball.
His injury was originally viewed as a major setback, because the Wildcats had no other proven point guards. But Diarra, a redshirt freshman, stepped up. With Stokes back, Weber likes to say K-State has “six starters.”
When Stokes plays well, that’s true.
He had 11 points and three assists against Oklahoma State, and K-State won. He had seven points and one assist against Baylor, and K-State won. Without those victories, the Wildcats would not have finished fourth in the Big 12.
“I feel like we had something special going,” Stokes said. “When I was out, I could tell the team needed me. I was determined to help them win. Now that I’m back we add another good player to our team and it hopefully gives us a lot more.”
Consistency has been the issue.
Still, Stokes is doing everything possible to get back to 100 percent. A Baltimore native who grew up five minutes away from the rough neighborhoods depicted in the popular HBO show “The Wire,” he is one of the toughest players on the roster.
He originally committed to Toledo out of high school but opted to attend prep school for a year and improve his college options. K-State coaches recruited him as a scoring point guard, and he signed with the Wildcats over Mississippi.
His freshman season started well, but ended after 21 games. Then he worked to get K-State to the NCAA Tournament as a sophomore. No way was he going to miss out on a return trip this year. When doctors told him there was a chance he could play again this season, and he pushed himself to make it happen.
“When I was in high school, I broke my foot and did the same thing he did, but I was not back that fast,” K-State forward Dean Wade said. “They put me in a hard cast and everything. He came back fast and he is just as he was before he got hurt. It’s amazing what he has been doing with his foot. It’s been pretty cool to witness.”
K-State coaches hope Stokes can be a secret weapon of sorts in the postseason. While opposing teams focus on Brown and Wade, the Wildcats could benefit from crisp passes and quality shooting from Stokes.
But the only stat he currently worries about is the final score.
“He has been very courageous to come back,” Weber said. “Confidence wise, it has hurt him. We just keep trying to encourage him. He is still a good player, and we can do special things if he plays well.”