Though UC is now an Adidas school, the occasional Nike “Jumpman” jersey can be spotted from time to time.
As trend-setting as Oregon’s threads are now, the old Bearcat jerseys were popular and many No. 4s (Kenyon Martin), 21s (Melvin Levett) and 54s (Jason Maxiell) were sold.
Other numbers were a little more under the radar, but also featured players that did the University proud.
After a recent Bearcats win over Marquette, I ran into frequent spectator Leonard Stokes. As I began to explain how I try to interview former players, we were immediately interrupted by the presence of an old Nike No. 13 jersey. The aficionado of the “stroke of Stokes” wanted to shake the hand of the four-year Bearcat letterman (2000-2003).
"There's a couple of them floating around," Stokes said grinning. "I'm an old man."
If you consider someone who graduated 10 years ago old; I beg to differ.
Though hairless on top (likely by choice) the former New York high school player of the year out of Buffalo still looks to be near his playing weight.
For the record, though overshadowed on some of UC’s better teams, Stokes was the team’s leading scorer his senior season at 15.7 points per game. He also is a member of UC’s 1,000 point club.
Considering he played with Martin, Steve Logan, Maxiell, DerMarr Johnson, Pete Mickeal, Kenny Satterfield and Field Williams, it’s a wonder he had the opportunity to score that much.
Stokes was a quiet, non-demonstrative type of guy, but had the ability to take over a game. Unfortunately, his most memorable performance probably came in UC’s 2002 second round upset to No. 8 seed UCLA in double overtime (105-101 Bruins).
No. 13 had 39 points that afternoon in Pittsburgh.
"Obviously, the UCLA game sticks out," Stokes recalled. "The outcome was bad. One thing I do remember was playing with a good group of guys. We still stay in touch. We still communicate. I talk to Kenyon once a week. I talk to Steve Logan, Kenny Satterfield and Eric Hicks."
Though Kenyon Martin’s jersey is retired, Stokes actually scored more points as a Bearcat. Both of their careers started slow and heated up considerably.
Stokes actually credits “K-Mart” for much of his development. He’s also had the privilege of seeing Martin’s mansion, complete with bowling alley, that now is up for sale.
"He's a good guy," Stokes said. "He's an advisor and mentor. Especially when I was in the D-League a little bit. He was like a big brother when I was here."
The Bearcats were dominant in Conference USA during the Stokes years. However, many of the players wish they could’ve played in the Big East as recent ‘Cats have. Particularly, prior to its unfortunate changes involving core members.
"That would've been amazing," Stokes said. "We talk about that among us old guys. It's all about that football and that realignment. We'll see where we land."
Stokes keeps apprised of the situation as he maintains a good relationship with the coaching staff and helps mentor some players. After the victory over Marquette minus Cashmere Wright, he was excited as most fans.
"Big win for the team," Stokes said. "Kilpatrick played a good game. Good group of guys. I'm proud of them."
Though the road is never easy in the Big East, the former “Buffalo wing” sees more such wins ahead.
"They can go a long way," Stokes said. "We need to get one of the big guys to step up. As long as that happens, the sky's the limit for these guys."
Leonard Stokes is still in town and works for Smart Growth Construction. They specialize in interior building and interior finish work.
Most home games you can find him nattily attired, cheering the Bearcats to finish their interior work. As always, he’s very approachable.
"The fans still remember the days when we played, so it's good," Stokes said.