Andrew Robinson (@ADrobinson3)
Darius Isaac doesn't put much stock in having an "off" game.
Sure, there are going to be outings where free throws aren't going in or he's committing more turnovers than usual but that's part of the game. What isn't in the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy senior point guard's vernacular is a lack of effort.
Darius Isaac (above, in 2020) is the experienced senior on a young and talented SCH squad. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Friday, Isaac knew he was leaving points at the foul line so made up for it with his defense.
The senior drew four offensive fouls through the course of the night as the Blue Devils used a stellar second half to defeat visiting Shipley 60-47.
"If you're not doing the things you need to be doing, like in this game, knocking down my free throws and being an offensive spark plug, when that wasn't going for me, I had to pick it up somewhere else," Isaac said. "That area was defense and trying to get my teammates involved."
Isaac's willingness to take a few hits for his team, chiefly his getting clobbered by screeners to draw offensive fouls that ended back-to-back Gators possessions in the fourth quarter, is exactly what Blue Devils coach Julian McFadden has come to expect from the senior. It's also what McFadden is hoping the rest of his roster picks up on.
The Blue Devils have plenty of offensive potential, but McFadden and Isaac see this team as a defensive-oriented group that wins games with stops. With a roster laden with a heavy mix of underclassmen and new faces coming in via transfer, it makes having a senior point guard in sync with his coach even more of a luxury.
"He's a tough kid, man, a great point guard and an underrated point guard still, even after being here four years," McFadden said. "He's the dude that understands all these other guys are looking at him for leadership and it's up to him to show that toughness. Toughness is what we preach and he's the guy that embodies all that for us."
On Friday, Isaac filled out the box score with 11 points, six rebounds and five assists against just one turnover on top of the foul offensive fouls he was on the receiving end of. Other players had more points or boards, so Isaac filled in the crevices.
Shipley had an excellent first half, paced by forward Raijon Dispensa and guard Darrien Grady, taking advantage of Springside Chestnut Hill's subpar effort on the defensive end. While the hosts were trying to out-shoot Shipley, the visitors took what was there and used a 10-2 run through the heart of the second quarter to put the Blue Devils in a hole.
If not for some hot shooting by Ron Brown, who led SCH with 16 points, the hosts would have been in trouble. Instead, they closed the half on an 8-1 run to get within 28-26 at the break.
"We're a defensive team so when we come out and just try to out-score people, we aren't going to be as successful as we want to be," McFadden said. "We went into the locker room and harped on being in the right positions and applying the things we practice every single day. We haven't been together that long, but these guys know what we expect, came out and executed."
Grady was relentless for Shipley, finishing with a game-high 25 points, but he didn't get much help in the second half with SCH ramping up its defense thanks to a pointed halftime talk. Dispensa finished with 11, but was shut out after halftime.
Alassane Amadou (above, in May) had 13 points and 13 rebounds in Friday's win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The teams traded scores through most of the third before Alassane Amadou put SCH in front 38-36, a lead the Devils held the rest of the night. Amadou finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds and the loudest play of the night with an emphatic dunk over a defender that got the Devils players and students section fully amped up.
Cam Burns had 15 points for SCH, including the back-breaker 3-pointer that gave the Blue Devils a 51-40 lead with 2:52 and took momentum back after Grady had tried to will the Gators toward a comeback attempt.
The real difference maker was on the defensive end, where the Blue Devils clamped down hard.
"I believe defense really can't be taught, it's whether you want it or not," Isaac said. "You have to take on the challenge that your man isn't getting by you. It's more of a want in my opinion and I feel as though I have to show the other guys I want to play defense, I want to get down and I don't want you to get by me and that gives my teammates that same implication that they should be playing defense too."
Isaac's intensity provides a good fulcrum for the collective energy and looseness the rest of the Blue Devils play with. Even the senior, who describes his on-court demeanor as "straight mug" and not overly exuberant, admitted he can't help but get caught up in the rush when someone else makes a big play.
It helps that he's often the one serving up the pass that results in one of those plays but there's no doubt the impact that collective joy in the game has had for SCH out of the gate.
"The first thing I noticed was how loose and how freely they all play," Isaac said. "I've always been one of those players who is locked in 24-7, focused and straight-faced. These guys, whether they do something right or mess up, they play free and always have smiles on their faces. That's when you're at your best, when you're having fun."
If there's any player conditioned to endure an off night, Isaac would be at the top of the list. An exceptional baseball player, the senior is able to bring the success through failure dogma of his other sport onto the hardwood.
Isaac is equally a team player on the diamond as well. His preference to play middle infield - second base or shortstop like two of his favorite pro players, Ozzie Albies of the Atlanta Braves and Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox - but the Blue Devils needed him in left and center field, so Isaac did what was needed.
"All we talk about is that mental, physical and emotional toughness and that is him," McFadden said. "That's who he is. Even in a game where he's struggling with his pace or not really able to get rolling, he knows there are other ways to impact the game and he's really effective doing that when he knows his team needs it."
He said his favorite sport is "whichever is in season" and has aspirations to play baseball and hoops at the college level. It's the first thing he tells any coaching staff and Isaac said he's received a lot of positive feedback about it, listing Chestnut Hill College, Arcadia, Wilmington, the College of New York, Cabrini and East Stroudsburg as programs that have shown interest in both sports.
Lightning-quick on the court, which allows the senior to blow by a defender and either attack the rim or make that pass out to a shooter when the defense has to collapse on his drive, that speed also makes him a menace to opposing baseball players trying to throw him out.
Even the best baseball players have bad games, go hitless at the plate or make a costly error. Like he does in basketball, it only spurs Isaac to do more in some other aspect of the game to make up for it.
"It's a next-play mentality," the senior said. "In baseball, if you only succeed three out of 10 times, you're considered a very good, if not great, player. It's always the next play and I give thanks to my coaches for believing in me and always telling me to go after it on the next play."
Playing two sports in college is not an easy feat but Isaac has the perfect role model for how to do it in his older brother, Demetrius. Demetrius Isaac was a two-sport standout at Penn Charter, then went to play basketball and baseball at Chestnut Hill College, inspiring Darius to follow the same path.
"Me seeing him able to do it gave me that extra push and extra drive," Isaac said. "I've always looked up to him. He started coaching with the Anderson Monarchs, which is the baseball club I play for. Whatever he does, it's always something positive and something I can look up to."
Isaac appreciated his coach going to bat for him, but is steadfast that he's not trying to prove anything to anybody this season other than his will to win. Whether he's underrated, overrated or rated accurately, all Isaac is concerned with is what he can do on a given night to help his team win.
Friday against Shipley, it meant taking a couple hard hits late in the game to earn his teammates a couple extra possessions to build their lead. He knew he’d probably feel it the next morning, but going with a win that night was the only side effect that held any merit.
"He's the heart and soul of everything we do, we go as he goes," McFadden said. "Darius Isaac is the guy that if he's rolling, we are rolling. He's one of the most experienced guys we've had in SCH history, I really think it always comes back to Darius Isaac."
SCH Academy: 9 | 17 | 16 | 18 || 60
Shipley School: 12 | 16 | 8 | 11 || 47
SCH: Ron Brown 16, Cam Burns 15, Alassane Amadou 13, Darius Isaac 11, Jaren Morton 3, Ryan Kull 2.
Shipley: Darrien Grady 25, Raijon Dispensa 11, Iman Jackson 9, Justin Powell 2