During a pickup game at the Smith Center recently, Isaiah Hicks knocked down an open 15-foot jump shot.
Luck, some of his teammates probably thought. The odds were high he wouldn’t hit another. A few plays later, from a similar spot, Hicks took his time, squared up and knocked down his second in a row – swish.
What happened next wasn’t a seminal moment. It hasn’t redefined who Hicks is or what his primary role will be for the Tar Heels’ preseason top five squad.
It did, however, show the 6-8, 230-pound junior forward that all his hard work is paying off.
After Hicks’s two open jump shots, instead of backing off and giving him space, Carolina’s guards contested his shot.
The result of the third shot was immaterial.
What mattered is that Hicks, who has done most of his damage from right around the basket in his first two seasons, felt confident enough to take it.
That confidence comes from his sessions with Garner Road AAU program staff trainers Gawon Hyman and Gilbert Abraham, as well as one-on-one instructional time with San Antonio Spurs forward David West.
In addition to their Garner Road responsibilities, Hyman and Abraham also boast NBA clients. Hyman is West’s personal trainer, while Abraham is the same for Raymond Felton.
Hicks meets with them, separately, three times per week.
“Isaiah has been working on everything,” said Dwayne West, director of the Garner Road AAU program and older brother of David West. “When we got Isaiah back in the seventh grade, he already had that athleticism, strength and bounce. He did those things naturally. What we’re trying to help him with now is giving him a foundation of go-to things that he’s real comfortable with."
Shooting from the elbow and mid-range, turn-around jump shots from both sides of the block and two-dribble pull ups are some of the drills in Hicks’s weekly regimen.
“We like to finish a workout with between 200-300 makes,” Hyman said. “That’s not shot attempts. Too many times now guys talk about how many shots they are getting up. We’re talking about makes. With us, Isaiah gets somewhere between 750-900 makes each week.”
Hicks, who is switching to his high school number, No. 4, next season, started three games and averaged 14.8 minutes per contest in 2014-15. While the number of starts might not increase – returning senior forward Brice Johnson started 37 games last year – his minutes undoubtedly will.
“Your body reacts differently when you’re playing more minutes, that’s obvious,” West said. “While you can’t exactly recreate what happens during a game, we run Isaiah through a set of drills designed to simulate it. We go for a half-hour at the end of our workouts with no breaks and no rests.”
Working with David West, Dwayne West says, provides a blueprint for Hicks’s career.
“His development, body wise, has been excellent at Carolina,” Dwayne West said. “He’s a long, lanky, bouncy kid that could shoot it a little bit, rebound and defend the rim. He has similar traits to what David had and that’s one of the reasons David likes working with him.”
“The plan we have for Isaiah is the same we had for David,” he continued. “We don’t worry about his rebounding or defense, because those things are innate to him. We want him to be more competent on offense. We know what a starting power forward in the ACC looks like. Isaiah can do it.”
In 2014-15, Hicks was the co-recipient of UNC’s most improved player award. He was UNC’s sixth-leading scorer, while ranking third on the team in field goal percentage.
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