There might be post players with more long-term upside in the 2019 recruiting class, and there are definitely prospects ahead of him in the national rankings for that group, but — as far as sheer production goes — it’s tough to find a big who’s been better than Isaiah Stewart this spring.
The 6-foot-9 center — originally from Rochester, N.Y., and now playing for prep powerhouse La Lumiere in Indiana — averaged 17.6 points and 10.6 rebounds during the Nike regular season, earning first-team honors on that circuit.
Stewart is still highly ranked — he’s No. 5 on the 247Sports Composite list — but he hasn’t received the same amount of attention as Wiseman, Carey and a few others in the 2019 class.
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Once he gets to college next year, basketball fans will probably learn his name pretty quickly.
“With the energy that he brings — and this is a kid with a college-ready, chiseled frame — and the way he plays will lead him to be a producer from day one in college,” 247Sports analyst Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “This is a kid that can consistently rim-run for easy baskets. He gives great effort on the glass, and I think if there’s one thing that always translates to levels, it’s rebounding. So, yeah, I think he’s a producer from day one.”
Which school will benefit from that production? There are still plenty of options.
About six weeks ago, Stewart trimmed his list of college options to 10 programs: Duke, Georgetown, Indiana, Louisville, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Texas, Villanova and Washington.
Coaches from most of those schools scouted Stewart this month in Argentina, where he helped lead the USA Basketball U17 squad to a gold medal in the FIBA World Cup, leading the team in rebounding and finishing third in scoring despite playing the seventh-most minutes on the team.
Those who didn’t see him at that event have been watching him here this week at Peach Jam.
It’s not difficult to figure out the appeal.
“I love his mentality when he hits the court,” Daniels said. “This is a strong, burly, physical, bruising post player with good athletic ability. He rebounds in and out of his area. He looks to dunk everything inside. And he’s a guy that’s just starting to scratch the surface with his offensive ability. He’s got good hands. He can score some around the basket. He’s made some adjustments to his shot mechanics, and his jump shot from mid-range out to three is looking better. It’s not consistent by any means, at this point, but I think it’s something that he’s going to be able to get to down the road.
“So I just think you have to be impressed with the physical makeup and how physical he plays.”
UK assistant coach Joel Justus was also in Argentina to scout the U17 team this month. At the time, the Cats weren’t a player for Stewart, who told the Herald-Leader two months ago that he would “definitely be interested” to hear from UK but hadn’t received that call yet.
He went on to cut his list a couple weeks later, and that seemed like the end of any possible UK interest. Apparently, it wasn’t.
About the time that Justus was watching him in Argentina, word got out that Kentucky was indeed intrigued by the possibility of recruiting Stewart, who said Thursday that the Cats have been in contact with his coach since then, but he has yet to speak to anyone from the program.
“To be honest, I really don’t know,” he said of UK’s interest level. “I’m not sure if an offer is going to come from Kentucky or not. But I keep hearing their name jumping in the mix, talking to my coaches about me. So I’m not sure.”
If Kentucky did come through with an offer — or, at least, some serious interest — would his school list jump from 10 to 11?
“I mean, yeah. I’ll definitely start to look into that,” he said. “But as of right now I’m just focused on the schools that I’m focused on.”
The Wildcats’ window might be closing.
Stewart said he’d like to start cutting his list to five soon, then start mapping out his official visits in preparation for a college decision. So if Kentucky is indeed interested, it’d be best to make that clear sooner rather than later.
“Yeah, I mean, you guys know I’m about to move along and cut my list down, so it is what it is,” Stewart said. “If they jump in, they do. And if not, it doesn’t matter.”
He said that in a respectful manner, noting that he understands UK has prioritized other front-court players in this class — Wiseman and Carey have long been two of the Cats’ top targets — and he’ll have a tough enough time deciding from the schools already on his list.
Duke is among the favorites, and Daniels — always careful with his public predictions — has already logged a Crystal Ball pick in favor of the Blue Devils.
“I would say they’re the team that would be in the best position,” he said. “If Kentucky wanted to get involved, it certainly sounds like he would listen. But at this point there’s no evidence that says they’re going to try to fully jump in.
“I think we’ll probably know a little more over the next few weeks.”