Hicks Returns to Action

HENDERSON, N.C. --- Isaiah Hicks made his much-anticipated season debut on Friday night, leading Webb to a 79-69 victory over Northern Vance.

The UNC commitment missed the first 13 games of his junior season due to transfer complications after switching schools, but returned to the court with a vengeance.

Hicks posted 28 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks in the win, and afterward he and his coach spoke with InsideCarolina.com.

ISAIAH HICKS

First game back - how'd it feel?

"It felt good. I pretty much hated sitting on the sidelines so it felt good to be back out there playing. I was also a little bit nervous since it was my first day back. But it felt good."

Impressed performance considering the expected rust after such a long absence. Did you feel like you were rusty?

"Yes. Everything was rusty for me - I know I can do better than that. I just need to keep practicing."

What was the experience for you, learning you'd have to sit out a semester and then waiting to return to the court?

"It was a bad feeling because I love the game. It was just something I had to - sacrifice."

What did you do since you weren't allowed to practice with the team?

"I was in the gym every day, running the track to stay in shape, doing drills - I kept working."

How important was it for you to hit that jump shot on the first possession?

"It was a real good confidence boost. It showed me that I didn't lose my ability to score."

Can you speak to what happened with the transfer from Body of Christ to Webb that made it so you had to sit out a semester?

"What really happened was my attendance didn't transfer from Body of Christ, so they needed two months at Webb to show I was going to school and then I got (my transcript) from Body of Christ two weeks ago and so they cleared me for the next semester."

Your coach said you chose to come back to Webb for academic reasons?

"Yeah, because when I went to Body of Christ, I fell off. I wasn't doing the same things I was doing when I was here. But now I got back, got my grades up so it's all good."

You had a lot of dunks tonight - did you have a favorite?

"The one I dunked on somebody. Because they were talking trash so it showed they needed to stop talking. It really helped to show them to shut their mouth."

How much did you stay in touch with the UNC coaches to talk with them about the decision to transfer back here and the complications that came from it?

"All the time. Roy, Coach McGrath and all of them checked up on me to see how I was doing. ... I told them everything. They were really supportive. That showed me why I really want to go to Carolina and play for Coach Roy."

We saw some new wrinkles in your game tonight that weren't there the last time we saw you back in the spring, such as that turnaround jump shot, and those two end-to-end drives ...

"It's a good thing I had the time off because I really worked on everything. I couldn't shoot a jump shot, but I worked on that every day. My dribbling, I know go coast-to-coast. And running track, my legs got a lot better - I didn't get tired tonight and I spent 3-4 months off from playing."

Your coach mentioned your upside. How much better do you think you can get?

"I can get a lot better. Because I'm a versatile player and if I keep practicing I can become unstoppable. I just keep working."

He also mentioned that while you couldn't practice last semester, you volunteered to help by doing things like carrying the team bags. What made you want to do that?

"It's just stuff you've got to do - show you've got it in you. Even though I couldn't play, I wanted to be there to support them."

With being prohibited from practicing or scrimmaging with your team first semester, your last competitive basketball was with the UNC players and pro alums when you played pickup with them on campus back in September, right? What impact did that experience have on you?

"It was a confidence boost, even though I was I was real nervous and thinking 'I can't believe I'm playing with them.' John (Henson) blocked everything, Harrison (Barnes) bodied me, but it was a good confidence boost because it showed that I have a chance to play at that level. ... They pretty much make me feel at home. Whenever I visit there, I go in the locker room."

WEBB HEAD COACH LEO BRUNELLI

So was that a 'rusty' Isaiah Hicks we saw tonight?

"Isaiah is the type of kid ... for the last month, he's been mentally preparing himself for this moment. I'm telling you, he's a special athlete. Obviously Coach (Roy) Williams sees an unbelievable upside, which I do too. The nicest thing I can say, and this is just outside the basketball court, Isaiah is a genuine, caring, loving human being. And we got to witness that for the last few weeks. Carrying laundry bags, carrying water bottles - anything just to be around. Because he was limited - he was limited, he was not allowed to do anything with us, but he wanted to carry water bottles. I'm thinking, 'This kid is going to be at the University of North Carolina in two years and the only thing he's grasping at is to carry water bottles and dirty laundry.' That's a special young man.

"I'm just blessed to have a second opportunity with him. He was here his freshman year and we had a good time, but they moved and then they moved back to Oxford. The proudest thing I can say is when I met with his family after he came back and all this was starting to happen, he said 'I want to play ball at Webb, but I feel the most comfortable at J.F. Webb High School academically' - nothing to do with me, I'm just a basketball coach. Academically. You're talking about a young man at 17 who has his act together? 'This is where I feel the most comfortable to achieve my dream academically.'

"And I'm telling you, if that was rust, look out the next few weeks because we'll get everyone jelling... Now we've got to get Isaiah ready to play within himself. That technical foul tonight? He's going to have to play that way, people are going to be bumping, people are going to be jawing. But we've got a great supporting cast with shooters, guards, we're going to press and then we've got a 6-8 guy in the back who swats everything.'

"He looked at me (after a goaltending call) and said 'Coach, what do you want me to do?' And I said, 'If that ball doesn't go in, I don't care if you get 10 goaltendings.' Psychologically, that's an advantage."

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