April is an important month for high school basketball recruits.
The two “live” recruiting periods — when college coaches are permitted to watch and evaluate prospects during AAU play — often lead to new interest, new scholarship offers and new rankings as recruits have the opportunity to prove themselves against their most talented peers.
Few had a better April than Isaiah Stewart.
Earlier last month, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound power forward from Rochester, N.Y., moved up 22 spots — to No. 10 overall — in the Rivals.com rankings for the class of 2019, one of the biggest jumps on the list.
Stewart was unstoppable in the paint for much of this past weekend in Indianapolis, where he helped Albany City Rocks to a 3-1 record and surely impressed anyone who wandered by his court.
Over eight Nike league games last month, Stewart averaged 16.1 points and 10.4 rebounds. No one on the circuit — which includes top frontcourt recruits James Wiseman and Vernon Carey — has more boards than he does, and no one at any position plays with more energy.
In the final game of the session Sunday morning — a time when many are worn out from playing four high-level games in a little more than 36 hours — Stewart grabbed 19 rebounds. He barely left the floor until the victory was secure.
His teammate, first-team All-American Joe Girard, has seen it all up close.
“He’s just a beast — I think that’s basically what it comes down to,” Girard told the Herald-Leader. “He’s got the highest motor I’ve ever seen, and he just runs the floor like a wild man. There’s no stopping him, and the way he goes up and down the floor is unreal. He’s a really big kid who throws a lot of other kids out of the paint. The way he’s improved his strength and his offensive game is something that took him to the next level.
“I’m really excited for what he’s about to do. He’s just phenomenal.”
Stewart is already getting plenty of attention from college coaches.
In the past couple of weeks, he’s picked up scholarship offers from Villanova, UCLA, Ohio State and St. John’s. During last month’s spring recruiting period, he hosted the likes of Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Tom Izzo and Archie Miller for in-home visits. He was also one of the first recruits to land an offer from Chris Mack following his move to Louisville.
“I’m hopefully narrowing the cut list soon,” Stewart told the Herald-Leader. “I’m just talking it over with my family and things like that. … There are days where I’ll be like, it’ll drop down to five. Then it will go back up to seven, maybe eight.
“It’s definitely going to be tough, because I have great relationships with a lot of coaches. But at the end of the day you have to do what you have to do and move on with the best choice.”
His options are many.
One school not on that list, however, is Kentucky.
Stewart, who plays his high school ball for La Lumiere (Ind.) — the alma mater of former UK player Isaac Humphries and former U of L recruit Brian Bowen, among others — said earlier this week that he has yet to hear from the Cats.
He said it’s not too late if they want to jump in the mix.
“I know Kentucky. I know what their program is about,” he said. “I know they got a lot of great history with players going off to the league. If they were to come, I would definitely be interested to see what they had in store for me and to learn a lot more about the program.”
Stewart, it’s become clear, has the ability and the attitude to play anywhere in the country.
One reason for UK’s lack of interest might be the Cats’ standing with the top two post players in the country — Wiseman and Carey — and the possibility that they could land one or both of those prospects.
Wiseman, ranked No. 1 by ESPN and 247Sports, will choose either UK or Memphis, and he was the first player in the class to land a scholarship offer from John Calipari.
Carey, ranked No. 1 by Rivals, has been on UK’s radar for just as long, and the Cats are clearly making him a major priority in the class of 2019.
Stewart specifically mentioned Wiseman as someone he could see himself playing alongside at the next level. He also talked up Michigan State’s history with players like him, and he said Duke has been telling him how well he and Carey could play together.
The Blue Devils, right now, are seen as the favorites in Stewart’s recruitment.
Whatever happens next, some program will be getting a high-energy difference maker in the paint.
“He’s a top-10 player in the country, and you see him play that hard,” Girard said. “A lot of times, you see those type of guys just taking it easy, just going day by day or whatever. He’s not like that. He works hard for everything he’s got. And he deserves all of it.”