CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Isaiah Hicks joined Brice Johnson last season in becoming the third and fourth Tar Heels in school history to shoot 60 percent from the floor and 75 percent from the free throw line. That projects a breakout senior season in his first opportunity as a consistent starter, provided that other glaring statistic – foul trouble - is addressed. Hicks averaged nearly seven fouls per 40 minutes as a junior, significantly limiting his ability to be on the floor at critical junctures. He picked up four fouls in six of UNC’s nine postseason games, including fouling out in seven minutes against Indiana in the Sweet 16. UNC may have dodged a bullet when Hicks decided to return to school without testing the NBA waters back in the spring. Now Roy Williams needs to figure out a way to maximize his power forward’s playing time.
Named ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2015-16.
Averaged career-high 8.9 points and 4.6 rebounds as a junior.
Leads team with 112 career games played and is 41 away from the school record.
Isaiah Hicks was an elite-level offensive player last season, the numbers confirm. His junior season averages ranked in the kenpom.com national Top 100 for overall offensive rating, two-point field goal percentage and offensive rebound percentage. When looking into further specifics, his points per possession (1.112) ranked in the 96th percentile, according to Synergy Sports, including 96th against man defense and 86th against zone. His play breakdown puts him in the 90th percentile for post-ups, 89th for putbacks and 75th for cut plays. In addition, he had the highest FT rate on the team, while significantly boosting his FT shooting percentage each year on campus. So long as he can stay on the floor, he’s poised for a big senior season. In the last four games of the NCAA Tournament, Hicks totaled 20 points on nine made field goals while committing 16 fouls. On the season he averaged a foul every 6.0 minutes, which is a precarious rate for a player that UNC hopes can play upwards of 30+ minutes in big games. By comparison, Brice Johnson played more than 30 minutes in 16 games last season – and that was with Isaiah Hicks behind him. Hicks and UNC won’t have that luxury this season.
by Rob Harrington
A year ago in this preview, we wrote the following about Brice Johnson: “From a talent and production point of view, Johnson will be critical to a potential Final Four run.” Fast forward to this fall, and let’s apply that identical sentence to Hicks. The former McDonald’s All-American and prime sixth man now finds himself in a potentially starring role; can he play up to it? Johnson made profound strides as a senior and Hicks will be asked to do the same, as the Heels will look for him to become a prime interior scoring option. He doesn’t possess Johnson’s scoring touch or knack for rebounding and must improve in those areas, and of course he must cut down on his astronomically high fouling rate. If he can accomplish those things to meaningful effect, he could enjoy a first-team All-ACC type of season.
by ACC Coaches
“Really talented. Active, long, had some big games for them last year. If he wasn’t playing behind Brice, I think he would’ve had even more and even bigger games last year; so I think he’s a guy who could take a huge step up this year with his activity around the basket, offensive rebounds. Not sure if he has great post-up game but can put the ball on the floor, he’s the guy expected to take the biggest jump for them this year.”
“I would expect him to take a big step for them this year. Last year he played a secondary role obviously to Brice Johnson. He had every bit of talent, they didn’t lose much when he was in the game and Brice wasn’t in the game. Only thing with him now being a primary focus is he’s going to have to avoid foul trouble, and deal with people game-planning and scouting specifically for him as opposed to the way we used to scout for Brice in previous years, so he’s going to have to be ready for that challenge and the minutes that he’ll have to play.”
by Dewey Burke
Could we be on the brink of a player who will one day have his jersey in the rafters? Isaiah Hicks has as much upside, explosive ability and talent as any recent post player we have had. Many former players think he could be a pro. But can he stay on the floor and out of foul trouble?
If Isaiah can play the 30-32 minutes per game we need him to play, he's an 18 and 8 player. Ferocious around the rim, a good foul shooter and relentless worker - he has the chance to have a memorable season for us. He has pressure on him to stay on the floor, and I hope that doesn't make him play timid. No doubt he's heard about it since April. Isaiah is incredibly coachable and loves being a Tar Heel. This is it for him. Can he leave Carolina as an All-American?
We can expect to see big finishes at the rim, plenty of drawn fouls and solid post scoring from him. He needs to be a smarter defender and understand that his jumping ability can make up for a lot of mistakes around rim. Rather than always try to take a charge or bump his man off course, I'd love to see Isaiah separate and meet his man at the rim. He also cannot afford fouls outside the paint. Whether it's trying to deny on the wing, or hedging on ball screens - just find a way to play without fouling. Teams that know us, know he's our most valuable big and will try to coax him into fouling. Be a senior, be smart and stay on the floor.