Rob Rose (@RobRoseSports)
The gym at the Fellowship House is dark and cramped, seating maybe a couple hundred people in its plastic bleachers, plus the assorted coaches and scouts in plastic chairs on the baseline. An over-energetic layup attempt on either end runs you into a wall.
Izaiah Brockington (above) and Iowa State are in the Sweet 16 on Friday night. (Photo courtesy ISU Athletics)
It’s a far cry from the cavernous United Center in Chicago, Illinois, which seats nearly 21,000 where Izaiah Brockington and Isaiah Wong will compete on the court on Friday for the first time since their matchup at the Donofrio Classic in April 2017 when Miami and Iowa State meet.
When the pair square off it will be a special moment for them and for the city that watched them win games in high school.
“It's always fun to go against someone you know and I feel like that would be a testament to Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Catholic League,” Brockington said. “It was always top-tier competition every night. To see two guys that are both from that league now in the Sweet 16, that's a statement.”
On that night nearly five years ago, Archbishop Ryan’s Brockington had a huge dunk against Wong’s WeR1 team and won the game. Last weekend it was Bonner-Prendie’s Wong with the highlight slam over Auburn’s Jabari Smith in the NCAA Tournament.
While they only played against each other one time due to their age difference, Wong and Brockington were teammates once and won an Under Armour Association championship, playing together on the UAA circuit with WeR1.
In the years since they went to college they have kept tabs on each other’s careers. During his preparation for Friday’s game, Wong really got a chance to see exactly how Brockington had his breakout season. After three years at Penn State, the 6-foot, 4-inch guard transferred for a second time and ended up with the Cyclones.
Brockington averaged career highs in points per game (17) and rebounds (seven), increased his 3-point percentage by eight percent (to 36.7%) and was named first team All Big-12.
“I feel like he really switched up his game,” Wong said. “He really progressed into the player he's become. He's really been doing a lot more for his team and he's been putting in a lot of effort. I've been noticing that when we watch the film, he’s taking people more off the dribble and he can shoot the ball very well.”
Isaiah Wong (above) has become one of the best guards in the ACC. (Photo courtesy Miami Athletics)
Brockington described Wong as a “bucket” when asked what his first impression of the then-slim scorer was when he met him years ago. After he averaged 17 points last season, Wong followed his own breakout campaign with 15.5 ppg and was named third team All-ACC.
Brockington added that it was always obvious that Wong would be able to score the ball, but when he saw the 6-3 Wong slam the ball on the 6-10 Smith, a potential top pick in the upcoming NBA draft, he saw it as an opportunity for everyone else to see the total talent Wong has.
“I feel like he [...] has really refined his game over the years,” Brockington said. “He’s definitely got stronger and he still has the ability to make tough shots look easy and a lot of people don't really know that he was actually super athletic. He was sneakily showing a little, but when I saw that dunk it was wild.”
Wong said he probably wouldn’t speak with Brockington before they step on the court together, but would give his friend and former teammate a smirk before the game with hopes they would dap each other up postgame.
Friday’s game will certainly mark the end of one player’s college career. Both Brockington and Wong entered their names into last year’s NBA draft before they eventually withdrew and had their respective big seasons and are almost certain to turn pro after the postseason ends.
Neither guard was heavily recruited coming out of high school and they take pride in what their presence in the final rounds of the NCAA might mean for future players from Philadelphia who want to be where they are one day.
“I feel like this means a lot for people back home just seeing two kids that played in Philadelphia playing in a Sweet 16,” Wong said. “This stage is worldwide, nationwide and everybody is looking and it's big saying, ‘These players from the PCL, they're good players and they produce a lot of good players. This is going to be a great experience.”