Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
Rhian Stokes is carrying on a legacy of athletic excellence in her household, though she will be the first to grace the hardwood at the next level. Her father and two older brothers all found success on the gridiron and passed that competitive edge on to her.
She had no idea she would carry the mantle with her as the first member to play basketball collegiately, but she also knew she wouldn’t be pursuing her dream of playing at the next level without them.
“We all wanted to be better than the older sibling,” Stokes said. “They’ve taught me how to use my body more and not think too much out on the court.”
Stokes committed to St. Joe’s on June 25 following a visit shortly before her announcement. The 5-foot-9 rising senior from Ewing (N.J.), who played her grassroots ball with Philly Rise, chose to commit to head coach Cindy Griffin and the Hawks over offers from Northeastern, Stony Brook, Monmouth, UMass, Fairleigh Dickinson, and Rider.
Ewing (N.J.) and Philly Rise guard Rhian Stokes committed to St. Joe's earlier this summer. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Even though she was not familiar with the Hawks program prior to her recruitment and subsequent offer from assistant head coach Melissa Dunne in June 2022, the togetherness and familial bond are what set things over the top of Stokes.
“The home feeling since it’s not too far from home but also not too close,” Stokes said. “I had good conversations throughout with the coaches and on my last visit, when I committed, I got to meet some of the players, and they really made me feel welcome.”
Family is what brought Stokes to St. Joe’s and it’s also what drove her to become a standout on the basketball court. Her dad, Terrance, was a sensational football player at the University of Pennsylvania where he was a two-time All-Ivy League First Team selection. He rushed for 1,211 yards in 1993, including a school record 272 against Princeton that still stands today, and his 2,717 career rushing yards rank fourth all-time in program history. Her brother, Caleb, played at Kean University and Kyle is currently playing at Kutztown.
The Hawks picture Stokes stepping into the point guard position when she arrives on campus in 2024. More importantly, they see Stokes as a key piece to the future of the program and feel she will fit in perfectly from day one.
“They told me as long as I work hard and show what I can do, I’ll have a chance to start my freshman year,” Stokes said. “I see myself as a pass-first point guard but if I have a lane, I will attack. It all depends on how I’m being played.”
Stokes noted that the Hawks staff “will help me focus on my weak spots with individual instruction and improve what I need help on.” One thing that she already excels at is scoring the ball as evidenced by her incredible junior season at Ewing. She averaged 18.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 6.6 steals per game while making 62 three-pointers on her way to Colonial Valley Conference Player of the Year. She scored in double figures in every game this past season and recorded four triple-doubles. Her scoring prowess, alongside Fairleigh Dickinson commit Joi Johnson and Te’Yala Delfosse, who boasts multiple Division I offers including Michigan, Marquette, St. John’s, Temple and St. Joe’s, helped Ewing to a 30-3 overall record, a second consecutive Mercer County Tournament title and its first NJSIAA Group state title since 1999.
She posted 17 points, seven rebounds, four steals and three assists in that state final victory over Randolph and has scored 1,265 career points to date. The magical 2022-23 season was the culmination of years of work and dedication that finally paid off with some of her closest friends.
“This season was really fun for me, especially since a lot of my teammates have been playing together since middle school,” Stokes said. “As far as we did during our sophomore seasons and losing the game before states, to come back and win it was an amazing feeling.”
Stokes took her strong high school season into the Nike EYBL circuit where she played on a loaded Philly Rise 17U squad. Some of her teammates included Kennedy Umeh (Stanford), Kennedy Henry (Virginia Tech), Shariah Baynes (Monmouth), Talayah Walker (Penn State), Taylor Derkack (UMass), Amber Howard (North Carolina A&T), Ava McKennie (Maryland) and Mikayla Blakes, who recently announced her top seven schools in Indiana, Rutgers, Stanford, Tennessee, UCLA, Vanderbilt, and Wisconsin.
That team, led by head coach and former Indiana University of Pennsylvania guard Talen Watson and former Villanova standout Doug West – now an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers – won the Dallas Platinum Championship and finished in fifth at the Nike Nationals in Chicago.
Playing on a team robust with talent allowed Stokes to play to her strengths while also formulating how to get players of her same caliber involved in the offense, which is something she will have to continue to do as she transitions to the next level.
“It was really fun, and I made a lot of great bonds with everyone on the team,” Stokes said. “Playing with them on the court and seeing everyone’s skillsets was fun to watch.”
The Hawks finished 20-11 (9-7 Atlantic 10) last year with a trip to the WNIT and looking to build on that as they head into the 2023-24 season. They bring in a couple of talented locals Gabby Casey (Lansdale Catholic) and Aleah Snead (Penn Charter) as part of their 2023 recruiting class. Stokes is looking ahead to where she fits into the mix and she’s confident one specific aspect of her game will allow her to flourish when she arrives on Hawk Hill next summer.
“I would say my shooting because when I was younger, I was able to attack the basket, but I never had that shooting aspect,” Stokes said. “My years in high school and playing AAU helped me develop a more consistent jump shot.”
In the meantime, she has a huge senior season to prepare for with major aspirations and wealth of talent alongside her at Ewing. She is “looking to repeat everything” and “wants to continue to be a good teammate to my other teammates” as she prepares for her final year of high school basketball, but with her commitment and future officially locked up, her gaze is on one last run.
“Now that I don’t have that pressure weighing on my shoulders, I can just really play knowing I have a school to go to next,” Stokes said.