Storybook Ending For Hicks

RALEIGH --- As the final buzzer sounded and his teammates piled on top of each other just beyond Reynolds Coliseum's center court, the night's unassuming superstar stood far away, expressionless by the bench.

He'd just led J.F. Webb High School to its first ever state championship, finishing his high school career with an MVP-winning, record-setting performance in an overtime thriller. His final stat line was staggering: 34 points, 30 rebounds, seven blocks.

And yet his first smile didn't come until minutes later when he talked with teammates during the post-game ceremony.

"That moment is Isaiah Hicks," Webb coach Leo Brunelli said. "That's what he is … it's what he's about. The future is bright for him because he has it all. And I think that's the part that separates him from everyone else, because of how he handles it. … He has 30 and 34 … and that's his celebration."

Hicks explained, "I guess I just felt so emotional. It means a lot, really. This is what we worked for.

"I go out with a championship with all my brothers. It was great to be able to share this with them and the whole community. It's just a great feeling."

It was a storybook ending for Hicks, a UNC signee, who returned to his hometown and re-enrolled at Webb in 2011, sitting out the first half of that junior season due to transfer complications.

"That's what I came back for," he said. "I'm more comfortable here with them, they're like family – well, they are family to me."

This championship game against Statesville High School lived up to its billing and then some.

Webb took the lead, and control of the game, in the opening minute, with Hicks leading the way at the center of the offense, while dominating the glass. He had 11 points and six rebounds by the end of the first quarter, 13 points and 16 rebounds by halftime, and 20 points and 26 rebounds as the fourth quarter began.

He scored on mid-range jumpers, spin moves in the lane, fast break baskets, and repeated offensive put-back dunks. He owned the defensive glass. He patrolled the paint, challenging each Statesville foray into the lane. All the while the Webb lead seemed safe.

But Hicks picked up his fourth foul with 7:21 remaining in the fourth quarter and Webb ahead 51-38. From there the lead slowly evaporated.

Statesville finally pulled ahead 61-59 with 2:11 remaining. Hicks tied it back up with two free throws. Statesville went ahead 63-61, and Hicks hit two more free throws. The frenetic last 28 seconds of regulation included a game-saving block by Hicks and then an offensive rebound and would-be-game-winning layup by Hicks called off because it occurred a fraction of a second after the horn sounded.

As overtime began, with the score tied at 63, Hicks had 30 points and 28 rebounds. He'd recorded four blocks since picking up that fourth foul.

"That's what was going through my mind - ‘How can I help the team without fouling out?'" he recalled. "I just had to play smart. When they drive, move back or out the way. It was my instincts. Usually I just try to go up and block the shot, but I had to time it and wait for them to shoot before I'd go get it."

Webb fell behind again in overtime, as Statesville scored the first four points. Hicks answered with a deep jumper and slammed home a putback to tie the game at 69-69.

He'd make one more big play, contesting a dunk above the rim in the final minute, before committing his fifth foul with 19 seconds remaining and his team up two. Teammate Mitron Terry scored the last four points -- the go-ahead layup and two clutch free throws -- for the 73-70 final score.

The MVP award was a no-brainer. The 34 points came on 13-of-21 shooting from the field and 8-of-10 from the free throw line. The 30 rebounds -- including 10 on the offensive end -- set a new state championship game record.

"Coach told us before the game that rebounds and slowing them in transition would win the game, so my goal was to rebound," Hicks said. "This is my first one over 20, I think."

As he exited the postgame press conference, the mild-mannered MVP casually offered a footnote to his coach. Hicks had damaged one of his contact lenses during a play mid-way through the second quarter and played the rest of the game without it.

"The last time he wears that white uniform for J.F. Webb High School, to put on a display like that, goodness gracious," Brunelli remarked. "Thirty rebounds, are you kidding me? Thirty-four points and seven blocks.

"What a way to go out."

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