For John Isaac, this year is just the beginning of a plan that has all come together.
One that began a long time before he emerged as a basketball recruit that the biggest programs in the country thought enough of to figure out where in the world Pickering, La., was.
|John Isaac: All-State as a senior at Pickering High|
Now, that journey is about to begin and Isaac doesn’t bother to hide his excitement.
“I can’t wait to get out there and represent this school,” Isaac said. “I really do feel like the people around this state have their eyes on me. I’ve been wanting to come here since I was a little kid. I couldn’t wait to get here and now I want to show people what can do.”
What Isaac is expected to do for the restructured Tigers has several layers to it.
He’s arguably the highest-profile in-state recruit Trent Johnson has landed in his four seasons.
On a team that has struggled to be tenacious on defense and athletic, the 6-foot-3, 208-pound Isaac could help solve both those problems.
As much as anything, though, Isaac is being counted on to bring some energy and little bit of an edge that hasn’t been there much the last two seasons.
“He plays extremely hard,” said Johnson, who enters his fourth season with the Tigers coming off back-to-back last-place finishes in the SEC. “It’s very rare from my standpoint where I sit and look in this day and age when you have an incoming freshman at this level who isn’t intimidated and doesn’t shy away from contact.”
With Johnson, that could equate to early playing time, even on a deeper and more talented LSU team has fielded since the 2009 SEC championship crew.
Not that Isaac’s basketball skills alone don’t get him into the conversation for playing time.
|Toughness and a nose for defense could get Isaac early playing time|
In a high school career interrupted by a major knee injury between his sophomore and junior seasons, Isaac starred at Pickering High. He averaged 22 points, 11 rebounds and 8.6 assists as a senior to earn the MVP award from District 4-2A and all-state honors.
Before that, he generated 18.5 points and 11.5 rebounds as a sophomore, attracting serious looks from every big-name program in the country.
With a specific goal in mind, Isaac ended the flirtation – to a degree – and committed to Johnson and the Tigers as a sophomore.
Isaac said he remembered as a junior-high kid watching the 2006 LSU Final Four team and knowing then what he wanted to do and, more importantly, where.
“It was amazing to me how all the players on the team were from Louisiana,” he said, recalling a starting five that all hailed from Baton Rouge or within a 50-mile radius. “I wanted to come here and be a part of that, be on a team that really represented LSU.”
Johnson saw that and a lot more to like about Isaac.
LSU’s coach was on hand when Isaac suffered the knee injury that might well have ended his basketball dreams.
At a summer tournament in Georgia in 2009, Johnson was with assistant coach Donny Guerinoni when Isaac wrenched his knee and kept playing.
Recalling the day, Johnson said he thought Isaac should’ve left the floor as soon as he was hurt. Instead Isaac played on and even came back the next day and tried to get back on the floor.
“We have to watch him because John is one of those guys who will play through pain,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t like sitting and watching whether it’s practice or games and that’s a good thing.”
Isaac said he use the physical setback as a lesson that serves him well now.
Already with a high threshold of pain, Isaac has realized how to manage the aches and pains that accompany a long season. That a natural toughness have him as close to college-ready as any LSU freshman since Tasmin Mitchell.
“Ever since I can remember, I’ve played with older guys and had to play tough,” Isaac said. “I think I’ve brought that with me to LSU.
“If you’re hurting keep pushing yourself. I feel like I can play through anything.”
|Trent Johnson: 'Every loose ball, he's the guy who's around it. Every rebound, he's around it.|
That tenacity is something Johnson expects to serve Isaac and the Tigers well right off the ball.
The hard-nosed LSU coach said he thinks Isaac will be a very good defender right off the bat and that’s a major statement in his dialect of coach speak.
“Every loose ball, he’s the guy who’s around it,” Johnson said. “Every rebound, he’s around it. The key for him is being able to understand to keep your hands off, attack the ball and not the body. John’s always up into your body, very physical.”
That’s how Isaac is comfortable playing, which makes a lot of sense.
Because he is undoubtedly in a comfort zone at LSU.
“This is where I’m supposed to be,” he said. “I can’t wait to get my career started.”