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.
J.R. Smith, Tyler Ennis Impressed by Kentucky-Bound Briscoe’s Game, Maturity
By ADAM ZAGORIA & JEREMY FUCHS
ELIZABETH, N.J. —Like Isaiah Briscoe, J.R. Smith and Tyler Ennis both starred at St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey.
Like Smith, Briscoe also excelled for the New Jersey Playaz AAU program.
And while Smith (Knicks) and Ennis (Phoenix Suns) are currently in the NBA, the Kentucky-bound Briscoe hopes to follow suit.
Perhaps after one season in the Bluegrass.
The 6-foot-3 Briscoe is currently projected as the No. 9 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft by DraftExpress.com.
“I definitely think he’s an NBA player,” Smith told SNY.tv Tuesday at Knicks practice.
“He could be unbelievable. He’s got the body, the athletic ability. He just has to make sure he keeps that drive, he could be really good.”
Briscoe, whose Roselle Catholic team opens play Sunday in the Slam Dunk to the Beach event in Delaware, smiled widely when told about Smith’s comments.
“We text, we talk a lot,” Briscoe told SNY.tv after Kentucky coach John Calipari watched him play Tuesday. “We talk from time to time. He was supposed to come to the last game. It shows that hard work pays off. For somebody like J.R. to acknowledge me like that, it means a a lot.”
Before the one-and-done rule, Smith committed to North Carolina but went straight to the NBA from St. Benedict’s Prep where he played for former coach Dan Hurley.
He knows that Calipari has coached a slew of NBA point guards in Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and Brandon Knight.
One of the main reasons Briscoe chose Kentucky over St. John’s and UConn is because of that lineage of NBA point guards.
“I mean, everybody at that position [who was coached by Calipari] really succeeded so I want to see him do well,” Smith said.
“It would be nice to see in years to come what he can do [at Kentucky and beyond].”
Smith wants to see Briscoe develop a “niche” and find more ways to score as he moves forward
“I think the thing about being a smaller guard in this game, you gotta find your niche, find what you’re good at so he’s right now he’s really good at getting to the basket,” Smith said. “He can of course shoot the ball of the dribble. It will be interesting to see if he can get to the free throw line or if he can guard with his long arms.”
Ennis played alongside Briscoe for two years at St. Benedict’s. The duo came extremely close to leading the school to an ESPN high school championship in 2013 before they lost to Montverde (FL) Academy.
Ennis recalls how competitive Briscoe was when they would play 2K at Briscoe’s home in Newark.
“I remember I beat him once and he offered up his best shoes at the time, I think they were foam posits,” Ennis, who was one-and-done at Syracuse, told SNY.tv. “We’d work out one-on-one [in basketball] at his dad’s gym. He never gave me an inch, he never took it easy or let me win. He always came at me. I think that made us both better, me teaching him more of being a point guard and him teaching me to be aggressive.”
When Briscoe entered St. Benedict’s as an eighth-grade sensation, he was somewhat chunky and was sometimes considered immature and a bit of a prima donna. Ennis says he’s impressed with how much Briscoe has grown up.
“I’m most impressed with his maturity,” Ennis said. “I was with him as a freshman and sophomore and he was a little Isaiah. Now talking to him and just seeing him develop and the way he looks at the game now, he’s eating better and working on his body and his family’s been telling me that he’s been working hard. So I’m just proud of him that he kind of grew up, and it’s hard being an eighth-grade phenom. Everybody wants to be around him and stuff, and just seeing him stay humble.”
Briscoe said he’s taken Ennis’ words to heart.
“Tyler, he taught me a lot leaving St. Benedict’s,” Briscoe said. “Make sure every year you add something new to your game. I took the advice he gave me, Kyle Anderson gave me a lot of advice. I put it all in one and try to be the best player that I could.”
“You know what, [Briscoe] has grown up, he’s grown up,” added Blair Academy coach Joe Mantegna , who watched as Briscoe went for 23 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds in Roselle Catholic’s 74-43 beatdown of Blair on Sunday. “I’ve seen him since he was a freshman at St. Benedict’s and like every one of us when we were 15, he was immature at that point, as was I when I was 15. He’s carried himself like a man and a future pro now out there in a way that he didn’t before. That comes with age and experience, and he looks like a guy secure in his own skin and I thought he played a really good floor game.”
Ennis believes Briscoe is now more a true facilitator who can help make his teammates at Roselle Catholic and Kentucky better.
“When you’re that big and skilled, you’re going to look to score but he can definitely pass the ball,” Ennis said. “Having him be able to score, defend and pass the ball at the point guard position, it’s not something a lot of schools are going to have. Especially Kentucky having so many guys around him, I think he’s really going to show that he can distribute and make plays for others.
Even if Briscoe ends up in a platoon next year at Kentucky, Ennis believes he’ll find a way to contribute.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “I think Tyler Ulis and those guys are really good but I think Isaiah can really go in there and compete for minutes, whether he gets half the minutes playing the platoon system or playing the whole game, whatever it is. The potential he has is going to catch a lot of people’s eye.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
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.