North Carolina Central
Isaiah Hicks is staying home for college, and hoping to lead the Tar Heels back to the promised land.
by Ryan Jones / portraits by Sara Davis
Isaiah Hicks comes across as a polite, soft-spoken kid who uses his Instagram and Twitter accounts less to big up himself than to remind his followers (and himself) to thank the Lord for another day. He does not necessarily come across as the kind of guy who puts triple-doubles on hapless opponents. But Isaiah Hicks does that, too.
A 6-9, 207-pound forward at Oxford (NC) Webb, Hicks is a long, athletic player who has earned a spot in the top 20 of the 2013 rankings with his ability to do damage at both ends of the floor. The jewel of a solid UNC recruiting class, he is an instinctive and still-improving prospect whose potential should have Tar Heel fans very excited. On the day we caught up with him, Hicks had just found out he’d been chosen for the 2013 McDonald’s All-American Game. For most guys at his level, such an honor is a given, and one they’ve been targeting for years.
“I was surprised,” he says. “I guess the week before they announced it, I started to think it might happen. Honestly, it just makes me want to work on everything I can to improve.”
Improvement remains a focus for Hicks, who knows he can refine the raw offensive skills that scouts point to as the weakness in his game. “Just the offensive side of my game, shooting, post moves, all that,” he says. Not that he’s overlooking his defense; it’s just that, thanks to his instincts, length and work ethic, Hicks’ D is already at game-changer status. “My strength is definitely defense, shot-blocking, rebounding, then running the floor, getting put backs, stuff like that.”
His path to improvement took a bit of a detour midway through his prep career. Hicks started at Webb as a freshman, then transferred to Body of Christ HS in Raleigh, NC, for his sophomore season. He ended up back at Webb last season, forcing him to sit out half a season and slowing his progress. While his eligibility was reviewed, Hicks couldn’t even practice with the team and had to watch Webb games from the stands. “It was hard,” he says now. “Nobody wants to sit there and just watch their team win or lose without them. I worked out by myself, but I lost the physical stuff, just being on the floor. You can’t do that by yourself. Finally getting to join the team, it was great. I couldn’t wait to play.”
His focus showed, as Hicks was the easy choice for conference player of the year honors this season, a selection that came just days after he got his McDonald’s invite—and the day before Webb started play in the district playoffs. Hicks’ response to all the accolades? “I’m just worried about getting this state championship.” Still, he does allow himself to look ahead, particularly when it comes to suiting up for the Heels. He grew up a UNC fan and lives just 45 minutes from Chapel Hill, so the chance to not only don that Carolina blue but help lift the program back to its traditional place among the national elite provides serious motivation. Simply put, he says, “That’s what I’m trying to do.”
In the meantime, he’s got a state title to win, an all-star game to play in and 10 or 15 pounds of muscle to put on before he steps on the court at the Dean Dome. Expect him to get there quietly and humbly, full of praise and potential.