Even as a tyke, future Coug owned the gym

SINCE THE EARLY 1990s, no one has had a better pulse on basketball in Seattle than Daryll Hennings. He's the senior athletic director at Seattle Rotary Boys and Girls Club, which has produced an incredible array of talent over the years. He's mentored so many of the area's finest that Sports Illustrated mentioned him prominently in a 2010 story about Seattle's pipeline to the NBA.

Point guard Tramaine Isabell, who is expected to sign a letter of intent with Washington State in the early signing period that begins Nov. 13, has been working with Hennings since 2001.

A kindergartner at the time, Isabell walked into his first day of organized hoops at Seattle Rotary like he owned the place, Hennings recalls. His confidence was booming. All this from a 5-year old.

It's something Hennings said he hasn't forgotten.

"Well first off, he was crafty just like he is now," Hennings said in a phone interview. "He just had a knack for playing the game and he really always has. He was part of a group of kids that grew up together in our program and I felt like all of them had a chance to play at the next level."

Now, 12 years later, the 6-0, 170-pound Isabell is a standout on Seattle Rotary's top traveling team and expected to star for Class 4A Garfield High this winter after a breakout season at Class 3A Lakeside School last season.

He's in Pullman this weekend for his official visit to WSU and is expected to be on hand tonight when the Cougs play an exhibition game at Beasley against Central Washington.

When he verbally committed to Ken Bone this past summer, Isabell said he was going to head to prep school for a year after high school and then embark on his college career in 2015. But those plans have since changed.

"I'll be up there next year as a member of the class of 2014," Isabell tells Cougfan.com. "I'm very excited about that. I talked with the coaches and we thought I'd come in 2015, but we came to the conclusion that I could come in next year instead. I think Danny Lawhorn leaving the program kind of promoted that because they need another point guard now. I'll be ready."

"I'm ecstatic for him," Hennings added. "He's good with the ball in his hands and he's a cerebral guy who understands that speed of the game and can change the pace if he needs to."

HENNINGS HAS SEEN HIS fair share of talent wearing Seattle Rotary blue. Amomg them: Brandon Roy, Peyton Siva, Jamal Crawford, Aaron Brooks, Terrance Williams, Tony Wroten and former WSU football standout and current Miami Dolphin Brandon Gibson. Other former Cougs to suit up for Hennings include guards Reggie Moore and Mike Ladd. All those players displayed swagger to their game, but Hennings said Isabell takes it up a notch when he's on the hardwood.

"He has a great confidence level," Hennings said. "He think he's the best and some of those guys (NBA players Hennings has coached) have had that same mentality. Those players have made the right decisions in their careers and we'll see what path he (Tramaine) takes. I wouldn't say he's going to the NBA, though, because I wouldn't want to put that kind of pressure on him.

"He's also very courageous," Hennings added. "He's not afraid when he's on the court. He goes out to be a leader and puts the team on his shoulders. He's a very special player."

ISABELL ENTERS HIS SENIOR season with the wind at his back after leading Lakeside to the 3A state title game last season. He averaged 19 points, five assists, four steals and four rebounds per game, showing off excellent floor vision, a knack for great passes and a sweet stroke from outside.

Isabell said the transition to Garfield, which is located just three blocks from Seattle Rotary, is going smoothly.

"Offensively, he's very advanced," Hennings said. "He can make ball screen moves and finish plays. He can also play off the ball, catch it and knock down baskets. He can do that from the inside and the perimeter. He's not really explosive as an athlete, but he's crafty and finds ways to get his shot off. He's a smart player, who can go up against bigger guys." "He's gotten stronger too. He hit the weight room and that's allowed him to take hits. He's also matured as a person. That's helped with the cerebral part of his game."

ALTHOUGH THE FUTURE COUG HAS plenty of positives to his game, Hennings says there's still some areas that will be worked on this season. Specifically, on the defensive end.

"You know he's crafty on offense and defense, but as far as keeping guys in front of him, that's something he could work on," Hennings said. "There's a lot of movement when you're a point guard and keeping guys in front is the basis of your defense. He has a tough time with that sometimes. If there's something I'd like to see him improve on, it'd be that aspect of his game."

Isabell agrees -- and then some.

"I want to keep getting stronger, but I also want to work on staying consistent with my passing," Isabell said. "Playing Pac-12 basketball, I need to be consistent in running the tempo. You have to run everything. The worst thing you can do it be out of control. I need to let the game come to me.

"I'm a strong passer and that's one of the strongest aspects of my game. I just need to make sure I continue to be smart with the ball. When I get to college, I know I'll have guys around me who have a high basketball IQ, who will expect me to set them up to finish plays. I need to be ready for that."

And who knows -- if Hennings' description of his talents prove to be true at the Pac-12 level, CougFans probably wouldn't mind seeing Isabell, while wearing the crimson and gray, saunter into a few opposing arenas and act like he owned the joint.

Hennings also coached current WSU assistant coach Curtis Allen back in the day. Hennings said he, Allen and the entire WSU staff stay in contact. "Coach Bone and Coach Allen and I have spoken for the last couple of years," Hennings said. "Whether it be about Tramaine or others players in our program, we've talked. I coached Coach Allen when he played for Rotary growing up. I'm pretty good friends with him still and we've kept in close contact over the years."

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