Hicks Making It Official

Isaiah Hicks will officially become a UNC basketball player when he signs a National Letter of Intent (LOI) on Wednesday evening. But he's been a Tar Heel for a long time.

Hicks committed to Roy Williams's program just hours after an unofficial visit to Chapel Hill in August 2011. Even though Williams told him to wait, think things over and weigh his options, Hicks didn't even make it back home before pledging to the Tar Heels.

His love for Carolina, Hicks said, doesn't really have an origin point. It's just something he's felt for a long time.

"I've always loved Carolina," said Hicks. "I grew up a Carolina fan and just love everything about the school. I can't even explain it; it's just where I knew I was supposed to be."

Signing a LOI is the easy part. Traveling on the AAU circuit, playing games at 8 a.m. in small gyms, hours of weight training and midnight workouts are what allow a player to get scholarship offers in the first place.

For Hicks, Wednesday's signing wouldn't be possible without the support of his parents, family and friends.

"It's going to feel good (to sign)," said Hicks. "It means a lot to me because I'm doing it for God and my family. My family has been there for me and always told me to go out and try something new, because you never know what's going to happen. They've always pushed me."

When planning the signing ceremony, Oxford (N.C.) Webb head coach Leo Brunelli sat Hicks down and asked who he wanted to be at his signing.

Hicks started going through a list, before stopping and saying, "I don't want to exclude anyone. I want everyone to come."

"That's Isaiah Hicks," Brunelli said succinctly. "That's Isaiah Hicks."

Webb will hold an open practice at 4 p.m. before beginning Hicks's signing ceremony at 6 p.m.

"It's a great day for Oxford," said Brunelli. "It's a great day for Webb basketball, his family and most importantly Isaiah Hicks."

Things haven't always been smooth for Hicks, however. After transferring from Raleigh (N.C.) Body of Christ to return to Webb, Hicks was ruled ineligible by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

He was forced to sit out the entire fall semester. He wasn't able to practice with Webb. No practice, not even any contact.

Hicks said he learned a valuable lesson.

"Never take shortcuts," he said. "Because they will backfire."

Brunelli called the semester a "nightmare."

"The bottom line is you're talking about a 17-year-old having to deal with all the stuff he had to," the coach said. "Not being able to have any contact with him was tough. You have a kid that wants to work and wants to be on the court and you can't do anything with him.

"What we tried to talk about was making sure that when his time came, he was able to be in the best shape of his life. It takes a special player to come in in mid-January and play the way he did. And that's a tribute to him not taking any shortcuts."

A head coach for 13 years, Brunelli said the UNC coaching staff did a great job of keeping in touch with Isaiah and not treating him differently because he committed so early. Most impressive was the relationship UNC's coaches have with their players, and the way former players interact with future ones.

"Last year when he did get cleared to play and we were in Chapel Hill, Coach Williams and most of the team showed up at the game to watch him play. Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes, John Henson – all of those guys were there. When you look at it from the outside in, none of those guys were going to play with Isaiah more than likely. Their connection with the University and love for the program made them – college kids – go to Chapel Hill High School on a Friday night. They were there to see a future Tar Heel that they probably will never play with. That's just pretty awesome."

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