Season Wrap-Up: Isaiah Hicks

All the emotions you'd expect from Isaiah Hicks were the ones he never showed.

Ineligible and unable to practice for the first semester of his junior season, he never got angry. Never asked "why me?" Never sulked.

Instead, Hicks said he never stopped working to make sure his dream of playing at North Carolina came true.

"I didn't take it as a bad thing that I wasn't playing," he said. "I just went outside and ran miles, then went inside and put some shots up. I did everything I could to get better."

Because of the NCHSAA's ruling, Hicks could have no contact with his team in an official capacity. He couldn't practice, travel on the road or even sit on the bench at home games.

Oxford (N.C.) Webb head coach Leo Brunelli called it "probably one of the toughest things I've ever had to deal with as a coach." Still, he said Hicks's positive attitude helped him come out a better person, student and basketball player.

"He handled everything with such class," said Brunelli. "You can really understand why the coaching staff at Carolina likes the young man. He was in the gym putting up shots, lifting weights and doing everything he could to be ready to play."

It wasn't until Jan. 19 – the day before a rivalry game with Northern Vance -- that Hicks and his Webb teammates found out he'd be eligible to play. In his first high school game in nearly a year, Hicks posted 28 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks in Webb's 79-69 win.

"That first game was pretty crazy for me," Hicks explained. "But it felt real good to get back on the court."

Before a home game in February, several members of the current UNC squad made the drive to Oxford to watch Hicks.

"That showed me I was already a part of the family," Hicks said. "They came and supported me and I came and supported them."

He went on to average 21 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks over 12 games. Despite missing the first two-and-a-half months of his junior season, Hicks was named NCPreps 1st team 3-A and first-team all-region.

Having missed a large chunk of the season, it's natural to assume Hicks's return would yield an adjustment period. Brunelli said that wasn't the case.

"The biggest thing I can tell you about Isaiah -- he can fit in anywhere," he said. "With our team this year, we probably had eight or nine players that could start on any given night. You might think bringing back a high-profile kid like Isaiah would cause a distraction. It didn't. The kids bought into it, and we played great."

Webb's season ended after losing to Fayetteville (N.C.) Westover in the NCSHAA playoffs.

"When that game was over, it was tough," the coach said. "But looking back, with what we and Isaiah had gone through the whole season, I thought the kids handled everything well."

Hicks transferred back to Webb in October. He played his freshman season for Brunelli, before spending his sophomore year at Raleigh (N.C.) Body of Christ.

Going through an off-season program with the same school for the first time in his high school career will be a plus for Hicks, Brunelli said.

"My next goal with him, when we start our individual workouts in April, is extending his range out to a foot behind the three-point line," he explained. "We want to make his 20- to 22-foot jumper look like his 15-foot one. We're trying to do everything we can to get him prepared to play in the ACC."

Hicks will again run with Garner Road on the AAU circuit this spring and summer. The unofficial start to the AAU season was the 2012 Dave Telep Carolina Challenge (DTCC), held in late March.'s No. 8 overall player in the class of 2013, Hicks was the top-ranked player at the DTCC. He earned rave reviews, showcasing improved ball-handling, a mid-range jumper and an aggressive attitude some felt had been missing from his game.

"It's good being the highest-rated player (at the DTCC)," he said. "Now, I'm not the one worried about other people."

He might not be worried about other people on the court, but Brunelli said he's acutely aware of his surroundings and the way his actions impact others.

"He's so unselfish," he said. "That's just his nature.

"The (UNC) coaches, I'll never forget, told him they had tickets for him behind the bench at the Nicholls State game in December. As a team, we decided to go and had seats in the top part of the upper deck. When we picked up our tickets, Isaiah told the (UNC coaches): ‘Thanks, but I'm going to sit with my team tonight.' The (UNC) coaching staff was like ‘Wow.'

"That's just what UNC is getting, I can truly tell you, with Isaiah. The kid's genuine. He brings about the best interest of the people around him – that's special."

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