Isaiah Briscoe Returning to New York for Champions Classic as Kentucky's Seasoned Leader | Zagsblog
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Tuesday / June 18.
  • Isaiah Briscoe Returning to New York for Champions Classic as Kentucky’s Seasoned Leader

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    From his home in New Jersey, Roselle Catholic coach Dave Boff has watched every one of Kentucky’s televised practices, exhibitions and games this season in order to focus on his former star guard Isaiah Briscoe.

    “I’ve seen him five or six times so far, which is crazy that I can see him that much,” Boff said with a laugh Monday morning. “Everything Kentucky’s on TV.”

    Briscoe and No. 2 Kentucky (2-0) will be back on ESPN Tuesday night when they face No. 12 Michigan State (0-1) in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden. No. 1 Duke faces No. 3 Kansas in the nightcap.

    Briscoe, who led Roselle Catholic to the New Jersey Tournament of Champions title in 2015, expects to have a number of family and friends in the crowd, including his father, George Briscoe, and his former AAU coach, Jimmy Salmon of the NJ Playaz.

    “I am looking forward to it,” Briscoe said Sunday. “Michigan State is a great team from what I’ve heard. We’ve been playing pretty well. We have practice [Monday] where we will go over the scouting report and go from there.

    “This is another big game and we have to come out and play.”

    The 6-foot-3 Briscoe went for a career-high 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting Sunday as Kentucky overcame an early 9-2 deficit and beat visiting Canisius, 93-69.

    His performance thus far this season has earned praise from both his former coach, Boff, and his current coach, John Calipari.

    “I’m seeing a lot more of the Isaiah that I saw his senior year at Roselle Catholic this year at Kentucky,” Boff said. “He’s clearly the leader of the team, he’s playing with great confidence, he’s more in attack mode than he was last year and it’s showing with the numbers that he’s putting up and the way that they’re playing right now.”

    Boff coached Briscoe for two years at Roselle Catholic, but said he didn’t see him truly emerge as a leader until the second half of his junior season.

    “It started the middle of his junior year, he really started to take that role,” Boff said. “And obviously he had that amazing summer after his junior year with the Peach Jam and then that carried over into his senior year.”

    In the summer of 2014, Briscoe led the Playaz to the Peach Jam title — on a team that also featured current IMG (FL) Academy guard Trevon Duval — and also won a gold medal with the USA Basketball U18 team. He then guided Roselle Catholic to the TOC title in March of 2015, the school’s second in three years.

    He chose Kentucky over St. John’s and UConn, but then had a disappointing freshman season in which the main criticism was that he failed to shoot well.

    Playing in the same backcourt as current Phoenix Suns point guard Tyler Ulis, Briscoe averaged 9.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists while shooting 44 percent from the field and 14 percent from deep.

    That performance hurt him in NBA circles. He tested the waters for the NBA Draft, but ultimately opted to come back to school.

    This season he’s averaging 19.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists while shooting 63 percent and 33 percent from deep.

    “I think last year he did what he was asked to do, and Tyler Ulis was a great player and a great leader, so he did what he was supposed to do last year,” Boff said. “Coach Calipari has put a lot of faith in him this year and so far he’s having an unbelievable year.”

    Playing alongside freshmen De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, Briscoe has been forced to become more of a leader in his sophomore season.

    “Zay’s (Briscoe) been here for a year,” Fox told ESPN before the season. “He played with Tyler so he knows what’s going on. Us six freshman that came in, we came in blind, we didn’t know what to expect. And Isaiah’s been teaching me from the point guard position because we’ll be sharing that role.”

    Calipari has praised Briscoe as the only one who knows what time it is on a young team.

    “And when you watch this team, who has it on this team?” Calipari said. “Isaiah.”

    With his young team down 9-2 to Canisius, Briscoe helped steady the reins and instill confidence in his young teammates.

    “I just kept telling the guys that we’re fine,” Briscoe said. “Teams are going to make their runs. Just keep calm.”

    “Isaiah was the man,” Calipari said. “What he did was, he just willed us when we were dying, and just said, look, I’m not settling, I’m going to get something at the rim.”

    While Fox, Monk and freshman big man Bam Adebayo are all projected as first-round picks in 2017 by DraftExpress.com, Briscoe is currently projected at No. 41 in 2018.

    Still, he has an entire year to continue to prove the doubters wrong and help his stock going forward.

    Beginning with Tuesday’s nationally televised game against Michigan State.

    “It feels good,” Briscoe said. “Hard work pays off. I’m still in the gym at nights, one of the first ones in practice getting shots up early. It’s just a grind. You gotta continue to do it.”

    (Photo: 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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