On a night when sports-related anguish could be felt in all parts of the commonwealth — encapsulating both UK basketball’s stunning home loss to UNC Wilmington and Louisville football’s shortcoming in the ACC championship game — there were cheers for one native Kentuckian on the hardwood.
Tucked inside the Saint Xavier High School gym in Louisville, Tyran Stokes was eliciting screams in equal parts amazement and delight.
Stokes is the top-ranked high school sophomore in the country, a prodigious basketball talent in the class of 2026 who plays at California-based prep school Prolific Prep and the recent owner of a scholarship offer from Kentucky.
But while that all concerns the future, Saturday night was about the present, and about Stokes putting on a show in his hometown of Louisville.
A thrilling 77-76 win for Prolific over Link Academy — the Missouri prep team that won the 2023 GEICO Nationals championship — was littered with highlight-reel moments from Stokes in front of his family and friends.
His first basket of the game (a dunk) was met with cheers and a flex from the 16-year-old. He buried a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer on the next offensive possession, displaying the emerging offensive versatility from the 6-foot-7 power forward.
The fun continued later in the first quarter: Not one, but two consecutive alley-oop dunk finishes to bring the crowd to its feet. A third was on tap as well, but Stokes couldn’t finish the play.
It was part of a high-energy, 12-point effort from Stokes that proved central to his team’s big win on the opening day of the Derek Smith Invitational powered by MADE Hoops.
“I felt like I played good. I could have improved a little bit in the second half, brought a little bit more energy. But I just wanted to go out there, (my) first game back,” Stokes said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be playing long spurts, so I just wanted to take my time and go hard when I was in.”
A smattering of assists and rebounds accompanied the 12 points for Stokes, who was born in Louisville but also grew up in California and Georgia.
“It’s my city, hometown. So it’s family,” Stokes said, while being serenaded with well wishes from family members and friends during the interview. “It’s home. So I was just excited to be back, playing in front of my family and friends.”
It also didn’t hurt that Stokes’ impact performance came in front of several of the college coaches recruiting him.
Alabama assistant coaches Austin Claunch and Preston Murphy, Louisville assistant Nolan Smith and Kentucky assistants Orlando Antigua and Chin Coleman were all courtside for the game, which headlined the showcase prep basketball event in the Derby City.
What those three coaches, as well as everyone else, saw was a young player with supreme potential, but also a prospect whose main calling card is effort.
“I’m always the energy bringer, (with USA Basketball) I was the energy off the bench,” Stokes said. “But being a starter (at Prolific), the energy’s got to start off from the beginning. So just coming in, being able to bring my guys up.”
Stokes displayed even more of his offensive ability Sunday afternoon.
He scored 20 points as Prolific capped a 2-0 showing at the Derek Smith Invitational with an 83-74 victory over host school St. X. In that win, Stokes scored in a variety of ways: From behind the 3-point line, at the foul line and at the rim.
AJ Dybantsa, Tyran Stokes form dynamic duo at Prolific Prep
Stokes is surrounded with top-tier basketball talent at Prolific Prep.
His teammates include close friend AJ Dybantsa — the consensus top-ranked player in the 2025 recruiting class, and also the recent recipient of a Kentucky scholarship offer — as well as class of 2024 stars center Aiden Sherrell (an Alabama signee) and guard Zoom Diallo (a five-star recruit).
But Stokes himself is a prized asset at Prolific Prep: Like Dybantsa, Stokes played up on the Nike EYBL circuit this year and Stokes helped lead his Vegas Elite team to the championship game at Peach Jam, the prestigious EYBL season-ending event.
“What you all see here is exactly what you see in practice,” Dybantsa said of Stokes. “That energy, dunking on people. He’s a kid still, so he gives a lot of energy.”
Dybantsa went on to praise several aspects of Stokes’ game, from his leaping ability (“He jumps mad high. ... I wish I had his bounce.”) to Stokes’ demeanor on and off the court.
“He still has that kid mindset, and it’s fun to be around,” Dybantsa said. “... Once we’re on the court, it’s all business, but off the court, he’s still a kid.”
In the prep basketball world, the Dybantsa-Stokes duo stands out, Prolific Prep boasts the top-ranked players in two different recruiting classes.
“It’s a great duo. Probably the best duo in the country,” Stokes said of the pairing, which combined for 40 points in Saturday night’s win. “His game’s great, we match up great on the court. We’re both leaders. We both want to win. Both know what it takes to win.”
And the likelihood is that both players will only get better.
By the end of his sophomore season at Prolific Prep (located in Napa County, California), Stokes said he wants to make strides in his dribbling, jump shot and passing abilities.
“Getting to the basket, talking on defense and being a leader,” Stokes added when asked about his biggest strengths right now on the court. “That’s really what I take pride in is trying to be a leader for my teammates on and off the court. Just doing whatever I can to win the game.”
Stokes also impacts winning on the defensive end. He played credible one-on-one defense several times Saturday night against Link Academy’s Tre Johnson (a former UK recruit and now a Texas signee), who was previously the top-ranked player in the 2024 recruiting class.
‘26 Tyran Stokes had a relatively quiet stat line - 12p (5-9 FG), 3r, 2a, 2s - but his flashes of skill and explosive athleticism were as loud as ever. pic.twitter.com/YWJcJAQ3oW
— Point Guard Eyes (@PointGuardEyes) December 3, 2023
Tyran Stokes excited by Kentucky scholarship offer
Stokes’ recruitment is in its infant stages.
While he may already count scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Texas and UCLA, among others, his recruitment still has plenty of twists and turns left to take.
That being said, a big smile came across his face when the Herald-Leader asked about the importance of receiving a Kentucky scholarship offer in late November.
Stokes is the only class of 2026 recruit to hold a Kentucky scholarship offer, a fact that communicates both his immense basketball talent and the continued evolution of Kentucky head coach John Calipari’s recruiting approach.
“It’s Kentucky. Everybody wants Kentucky, it’s the top of the top,” Stokes said. “Being from Kentucky and getting that offer really means something to me.”
The reasons for that excitement are twofold. UK has been an NBA draft factory under Calipari, with 47 selections since Calipari was hired at Kentucky in 2009.
There’s also logistics at play. Rupp Arena is less than a 90-minute drive from Louisville, which would give Stokes’ family the chance to watch him play often.
Stokes said it would mean something to him if, down the line, he has the chance to play college basketball in the commonwealth.
“Because my family, every home game they could (drive) either 45 minutes or 5 minutes down the street (to Louisville),” Stokes said. “They could come watch every game, every home game and support me.”