Jonathan Isaac is a unique talent in the world of college basketball. Unfortunately, those talents are likely to be on display in Tallahassee for only two more months, or however far Florida State goes in the NCAA Tournament.
Isaac is destined for the NBA, where he will likely excel. The 6’10” 5-star forward from Naples and the IMG Academy would be there now if the league did not require at least one year of college (that’s another story).
His talent is easy to see just by watching a few minutes of an FSU game. Isaac and his teammates play just as hard at both ends of the court, but he has the talent to make plays his teammates cannot.
The late Al Maguire, who coached Marquette to the 1977 NCAA title before serving as an NBC commentator, wasn’t much into freshmen. One of his most famous quotes was “the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores.”
Not in today’s world. Now, the most talented freshmen (Diaper Dandies if you’re into Dick Vitale), become NBA draft choices.
That means they either blow the scouts away in high school, or they develop rapidly. Isaac fits both descriptions.
Wednesday night’s 83-80 victory over No. 15 Notre Dame is a case in point. With FSU’s other future NBA player, Sophomore Dwayne Bacon, having an off night, Isaac, with a big assist from Xavier Rathan-Mayes, put the team on their shoulders.
Both made huge shots down the stretch to keep the fighting Irish at bay, but Isaac was also swatting shots away at the other end. His 23 points and 10 rebounds were huge, but all seven of his blocked shots were necessary to keep Notre Dame from stealing the win.
The Fighting Irish made an astonishing 15 of 21 three-point attempts.
“That’s ridiculous,” Isaac said. “That’s crazy.”
FSU Coach Leonard Hamilton, who has been around a lot longer than Isaac, added to that.
“I’ve never seen a team shoot 15 of 21 from 3, period,” Hamilton said. “I’ve never witnessed that.”
The last two blocks came in the final five seconds, but there is a story behind that, too. After Rex Pflueger’s miracle 3-pointer went in, narrowing the gap to 83-80, Isaac prepared to inbound the ball.
The freshman coughed it up to Pflueger, setting the stage for a highly deflating ending. Instead, Isaac recovered to block two shots in those five seconds without fouling, thereby sealing the win.
Yes, he made a huge mistake, but that was after a game of highlights that included making four clutch free throws in the final 26 seconds. He then recovered from that mistake in a big way.
None of the accounts in the Tallahassee media pointed out Isaac made the potentially critical turnover. Perhaps it might get in the way of the story on how well he played overall.
In fact, it is just the opposite. He is gifted, but not perfect. One bad play was followed by two great plays. Isn’t that what great players do?
That is not the mindset of a freshman. Maguire would agree it would be an unexpected pleasure if Isaac became a sophomore.
The next test for the freshman and his teammates comes Saturday when No. 12 Louisville travels to Tallahassee.