Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Isaiah Briscoe Enjoys Second Big Game in New York as Kentucky Routs Hofstra
NEW YORK –It’s only December, but ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has Kentucky slotted as the No. 2 seed in the East Regional, where they could face defending national champion Villanova in the regional final at Madison Square Garden on March 26.
That would probably be just fine by Isaiah Briscoe.
In two games this season in New York City, the sophomore guard from Newark, N.J., has combined for 40 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 turnovers — both Kentucky wins.
“I’m just out there playing, honestly,” Briscoe said after putting up 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting and 6 assists in Kentucky’s 96-73 rout of Hofstra on Sunday at Barclays Center. “Every game I go out, try to play hard and just try to compete. It’s a plus playing good at home in front of my fan base and in front of my family.”
On Nov. 15, Briscoe went for a career-high 21 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 turnover as Kentucky throttled No. 13 Michigan State, 69-48, in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Of course, in between those two games there was the small matter of Briscoe yawning during a game in which UCLA stunned then-No. 1 Kentucky, 97-92, at Rupp Arena.
“He yawned at halftime on the huddle on the floor,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said before imitating a huge yawn on Briscoe’s part. “I’m getting ready to start the second half…and he did it. I go, ‘Really.'”
Calipari called Briscoe into his office that next week and confronted him about the yawn.
“He said, ‘I did it, I did it,'” Calipari recalled. “I said, ‘Look man, if you take away your toughness, your leadership, your talking, your diving on the floor, your tough plays around the goal, you take that away from you, what are you left with? Let me remind you, without the energy, without the toughness, without the battle and this leadership talking, what are you left with.’ And he said, ‘Coach, I got you.'”
Calipari said he chalked the UCLA came up to a “one-off” for Briscoe, whom he’s counting on to mentor freshmen guards Malik Monk (20 points) and De’Aaron Fox (15), both projected lottery picks.
“He’s been great,” Calipari said of Briscoe post-UCLA. “He listens, he talks, he calms these guys down.”
Calipari said he has told Briscoe he’s coaching him for the future — not the present.
“I told him 20 times in this game, ‘I’m not coaching you for this game….This is for the next two, the next three, the next five,'” Calipari said. “And what we’re doing right now, we can’t win this way. He’s been great, though, been really pleased with him.”
Briscoe didn’t yawn on Sunday (at least that Calipari mentioned) but Hofstra did get to within three points in the first half before Kentucky turned it on to take the half 48-33 behind 15 first-half points from Briscoe.
“Being up three, we knew that we had to start locking down on defense, get a couple stops and run out in transition,” Briscoe said.
In transition, Briscoe had some fun tossing up lob passes to Bam Adebayo, who finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds but missed at least one oop that Briscoe fed him. Afterward, Briscoe had a few private words for the freshman big man.
“I don’t want to tell you what I told him, but I like throwing alley oops,” Briscoe said. “I was trying to get Bam a couple alley oops in the beginning of the game and once I got that steal I just saw him and I left it there for him. He didn’t convert, he converted on Malik’s though.”
Beginning Wednesday after finals are finished, Briscoe and Kentucky will enter into Calipari’s December training camp, where the coach said he plans to focus on “two- and three-a-days.”
Still a work in progress, they have games with No. 7 North Carolina on Saturday in Las Vegas and at No. 11 Louisville on Dec. 21 before opening SEC play.
“We’re still in the beginning of the season, guys are still getting better, we’re still jelling as a team,” Briscoe said. “And we’re just focused on getting better every day, collectively and as a team. When March come around we’ll focus on March, but right now we’re just focused on the next game and getting better.”
And if March brings Kentucky back to New York, to the Garden, well Briscoe probably wouldn’t object to playing on that stage once again.
Photo: Kentucky Athletics
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.