Kyrie Irving, John Calipari Expect Isaiah Briscoe to 'Rise to the Top' at Kentucky, Pursue NBA Career | Zagsblog
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Friday / April 12.
  • Kyrie Irving, John Calipari Expect Isaiah Briscoe to ‘Rise to the Top’ at Kentucky, Pursue NBA Career

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    Briscoe layupNEW YORK — Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving and Kentucky coach John Calipari both know what it takes to make it to the NBA.

    And both believe Roselle (N.J) Catholic point guard Isaiah Briscoe has what it takes.

    But both Irving and Calipari also know that Briscoe will have to compete for playing time next year at Kentucky and will have to prove that he belongs at that level before he can dream of an NBA career. The 6-foot-3 Briscoe is currently projected as the No. 14 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft by

    “I think that’s just life, life of competition,” Irving told Sunday in the visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden before the Cavs destroyed the Knicks, 101-83. “[Briscoe] is going to have to fight for what he deserves and it’s just going to be a test for him, one of many tests going to a school with that many guards. The cream always rises to the top.”

    Irving, who starred at nearby St. Patrick High School before being a one-and-done at Duke, is one of several NBA mentors for Briscoe, along with Knicks star Carmelo Anthony and former St. Benedict’s standouts J.R. Smith and Tyler Ennis.

    “I talk to him often, I try to give him space as much as possible, just to let him grow into himself, get used to all the attention that he’s getting,” Irving said. “I mean, I’ve dealt with it, so he’s getting his fair share of it and just representing New Jersey well.”

    Kentucky entered Briscoe’s recruitment late this summer at a time when he was thought to be favoring St. John’s or perhaps reigning national champion UConn. At various points in his recruitment, both Syracuse and Arizona were considered favorites.

    But Kentucky is Kentucky and when they began expressing interest after Briscoe led the NJ Playaz to the Peach Jam title in July, well, Briscoe had to listen.

    Cal-Briscoe“Well, as everything was playing out, you want players that want to play at Kentucky, that understand what it means,” Calipari, who watched Briscoe play against Kentucky target Cheick Diallo last Sunday in New York before the NBA All-Star-Game, said Monday on the weekly SEC conference call. “When I met with him and his family, I said, ‘It’s not for everybody. It’ll be the hardest thing you’re ever going to undertake. I’m not going to promise you you’ll start. I’m not promising you minutes or shots. You come with us because you want to get better. Individually, you want to go from A to B to C and you want to be on a terrific team and be a teammate.’ He never asked me who was going to be on our team. He never asked me, nor did he care, who else we were recruiting. He wanted to play with us, and it’s exactly the kind of young man that comes here, improves himself, gets himself better and understands why he came and does well.”

    After initially saying he would verbally commit in the fall and wait until the spring to sign his National Letter of Intent, Briscoe went ahead and signed his NLI in November so there wouldn’t be any speculation about his future going forward.

    “It’s different here,” Calipari said. “We don’t recruit – we’ll recruit some kids that we see and it’s an obvious thing, but we want to make sure because I don’t want anybody to come here and fail. Not every kid succeeds but we work real hard on making it so when we’re watching they have a great chance to succeed. Good character kids, and that’s what he is. Great family. I went and watched him play. He’s exactly what we thought: great with the ball, good teammate. He’s got a ways to go, but he’s going to be good.”

    Briscoe was intrigued by Kentucky because of Calipari’s track record of sending point guards to the NBA, from Derrick Rose to John Wall to Brandon Knight.

    NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Kentucky“[Calipari] said his job is to get people in the NBA, ultimately that’s everybody’s goal is to get to the NBA,” Briscoe told me in September. “Last year, he had six people [who could go] in the first round, this year he had eight. And it’s just like the lineage and the steps. This wave go to the NBA from Kentucky, and then the next wave goes. And that’s something I want to be a part of. I want to be a part of those waves that go to the NBA, where the starting five and two people coming off the bench are saying, ‘We’re now in the NBA.’ Every day at practice you’re going against [McDonald’s All-Americans].”

    Briscoe also said recently that Calipari “cares for his players first. He puts his players before anything. He’s very down to Earth. When they came in my house I felt like they were part of my family already.”

    Briscoe is now averaging 21.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds for Roselle Catholic (20-3), the favorite to win the New Jersey Tournament of Champions title.

    He will play in the McDonald’s All-American Game, the Nike Hoop Summit and likely the Jordan Brand Classic — all in April. Then he plans to play for the USA U19 team this summer at the World Championship in Crete, Greece.

    Still, because of a foot injury that sidelined him for a month this summer, as well as some recent issues, including the death of a close family friend, he is not in ideal condition.

    BoyleMontverde (FL) Academy coach Kevin Boyle, who previously coached former Kentucky players Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Dakari Johnson, believes Briscoe must get in better shape to play defense for Calipari.

    “I think he’s terrific,” Boyle said after Montverde beat RC at the Metro Classic. “He reminds me of a combination of [former Villanova guard] Corey Fisher and [current Ohio State star] D’Angelo Russell. Corey Fisher’s herky-jerky game, off balance, creates fouls, D’Angelo Russell’s confidence. He can miss five shots and he thinks there’s something wrong with the ball or the rim or the person who passed it to him, not him. And Isaiah’s the same way, and I mean that in a complimentary way.

    “I mean that he has great confidence. I really like his game.”

    Boyle added: “What he’s going to have to do is guard better at that level. He’s going to have to really get after it defensively because when you’re playing against great people, Cal is going to really demand that you guard or you don’t play. He’s a great coach, he’s good to the guys, but he’s playing to win the game and I think he can be an excellent player there but he’s gotta really bear down and guard.”

    Malik NewmanBriscoe will also have to compete for playing time next year at Kentucky on a team that will likely include returning point guard Tyler Ulis, incoming guard Charles Matthews and possibly undecided point guard Malik Newman, whom Briscoe is recruiting to Kentucky. It should be noted that it also remains to be seen what will happen to sophomores Andrew and Aaron Harrison, who are on the periphery of the NBA Draft at this point.

    As for whether Briscoe can move onto the NBA after one year at Kentucky, it remains to be seen.

    “Well I don’t know all that,” Calipari said. “I do know that you have to understand when I ask my team that question to start the year – ‘How many of you have aspirations to play in the NBA?’ – every player in the room raised their hand, including the walk-ons. I want guys that have that in them that they want to be the best they can be. They know to reach that dream they’ve got to be at their very best and the team’s got to win. They understand it. What he’ll do here, it’s like everything else, I hope you see when he’s playing for us, you say, ‘I never thought he was this good. I never thought he could get to this point. I’m amazed at how much better he’s gotten. Look at his body. Look at the pace of his game. He gets in the lane whenever he wants. I didn’t realized this is who he was.’ That’s what I’m hoping the comments are after he’s playing for us.”

    Irving, the All-Star point guard who serves as one of Briscoe’s mentors, had a similar sentiment for his protégé .

    “His journey is still being written,” Irving said. “I think he has the talent for it but he still has a long ways to go. I’m proud of the progress he’s making. I just want him to be the best player he can be.”

    Photos: USA Today Sports /

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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.

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