2010 PG Isaiah Epps a top priority

Without much thought, Plainfield (N.J.) coach Pete Vasil can rattle off a number of Isaiah Epps' best games and moments this past season. And if he happens to forget one, he can just look on his refrigerator.

That's where the box score is from Plainfield's game at Paterson Catholic, New Jersey's No. 3 team and stacked with Division I prospects. Vasil's star sophomore point guard had 16 points, seven assists, seven rebounds and seven steals in Plainfield's 77-68 win.

"He basically fills up the stat sheet on a nightly basis," Vasil said.

There were many nights like that. Epps' 21 points and 14 rebounds in Plainfield's 70-66 opening night win against No. 7 Linden. The 20 points in one of No. 3 Newark Science Park's three losses. And the game right before the state playoffs against East Orange, when Epps made a dazzling assist on the go-ahead 3-pointer with 30 seconds left, then stole the inbounds pass while guarding the in-bounder.

"He timed it, looked at the kids' eyes and just jumped up," Vasil said. "You don't see too many guys do that."

He then sealed the win with two free throws.

"He does things that makes it look effortless at times. He's got a crafty and slick handle that's very deceiving and he can get guys off balance very easily," Vasil said. "On defense he can shift gears, he's fast down the court with the ball. And he finds guys, he's the prototypical point guard that can flat out score. He's got great body control. He's just very, very crafty. When you watch like Steve Nash and Chris Paul and guards like that that make it look easy with the ball in their hands, he's one of those players."

Plainfield finished 18-8 and got to the sectional semifinals, thanks in a large part to the 6-foot-1 1/2 Epps, who averaged 16.5 points, 6.4 assists and .9 steals. He played mostly junior varsity his freshman year, but only because Plainfield had two future Division I guards on varsity. He played some varsity, including making the 10-man roster on a trip to San Diego, but he was a relative unknown heading into the summer of 2007, when he played with the prestigious Playaz AAU Basketball Club.

"The thing with [Playaz director] Jimmy Salmon, for as many years as I've known him, Jimmy only takes the top-notch players in that outfit. Of course he looked at Isaiah as one of them as a freshman," Vasil said.

Epps promptly burst on to the scene. He caught the attention of college coaches with his smooth handle, court savvy and silky left-handed jump shot. Seton Hall and Rutgers offered that summer.

"He's a good kid. A scoring machine when he wants to. Runs the team, runs the offense, plays defense, coachable kid. Always picking his team up. Ready to listen to whatever we want him to do," said Playaz 16 and under coach Jebarr Spencer last weekend.

This summer, Epps' name is on just about every list of top guards for the class of 2010. Colleges have pounced on him as well—Maryland offered at the Providence JamFest, and Pittsburgh followed not long after. Vasil said St. Joseph's, Marquette and Kansas have inquired recently.

Maryland, though, has come on the strongest of late. Though Epps won't visit the school until next month, the Terps have made an intriguing offer.

"The only thing I know right now that they told me is I will have a starting position in 2010," Epps said.

By then, Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes will have moved on, leaving only three other guards—none point guards—on the roster. And from all indications, the Maryland staff is not targeting a point guard in the 2009 class.

Epps played off a possible early oral commitment—"I'm just focused on doing my work now," he said—but it's something Vasil said he's looking into.

"I always tell my players, ‘Go to where you're most wanted and where you're gonna make an impact; where you're gonna be taken care of for four years,'" said Vasil, who will make the trip with Epps to College Park. "And if it means committing early, what's the problem with that? Sometimes you're a lot better off. Take care of business, give a verbal and go about your business."

For now, Epps is trying to recover from a sprained ankle suffered at last week's D.C. Assault tournament. To do that, he's not lounged out on the couch. Instead he's playing full-on pick-up basketball back in Plainfield.

"He's got that gym rat mentality that he always wants to get better. Sometimes I think too much where I don't want him to wear his body down or anything," Vasil said.

In that pick-up game, the hobbled Epps took his best shot at two Plainfield alums and current Division I players—Jerrell Thompson (Sacred Heart) and MAAC all-rookie selection Anthony Nelson (Niagara). After the game, Nelson walked up to Vasil and offered his thoughts on the high school sophomore with the bum ankle.

"Coach," Nelson said, "He's tough as heck."

"I'm real, real critical when it comes to critiquing my guys," Vasil said. "I've had some great ones and I've worked with some great ones. As a sophomore he's already been offered by Maryland, just based on that factor alone… I think he'll be the best player I've coached."

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