UConn Huskies nab big man Isaiah Whaley
Ricky Moore was the lead man on the recruitment of Isaiah Whaley, and Kevin Ollie sealed the deal.
But new UConn strength coach Carlos Daniel may have played as big a role as any in the 6-foot-9 forward’s commitment on Thursday night.
Whaley, a Gastonia, North Carolina product who played last season at Mount Zion Prep in Baltimore, knows he needs to get a bit stronger to compete at a high Division 1 level. Also, one of his favorite NBA players is Anthony Davis, the 6-11 center on New Orleans.
When Whaley learned that Daniel worked with Davis for about three years, including helping him train for the 2012 Olympics, that pretty much sealed the deal.
“He emulates (Davis’s) game,” Mount Zion assistant coach Cortez Brown said of Whaley. “That really intrigued Isaiah. Where he’s been, he hasn’t had the resources to have a 24/7 facility. Now, he has the opportunity, and knows that. He’s gonna work extremely hard, and Coach Carlos will be right by his side. Coach Carlos was a big piece in the puzzle.”
Whaley, who checks in at about 190 pounds, averaged about 22 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks per game in his one season at Mount Zion. He came up big against top competition: 38 points vs. Putnam Science Academy; 24 points and 12 rebounds vs. Hargreaves; 30 points vs. Brewster Academy.
“He was a double-double machine,” said Brown. “He’s very active, can step out and hit the 15-footer. He’s got a nice touch.”
Whaley committed during his official visit to UConn.
“He had a great workout, they were ranting and raving about him,” said Brown. “Coach Ollie has a special connection with him, because he comes from humble beginnings, as well.”
Indeed, Whaley lacked direction in his early years, according to Brown. His mom worked hard to raise five kids, and his grandfather played an important role in his life. But Whaley still sometimes ran with the wrong crowd, which was never more apparent than back in September, 2015.
Whaley and his cousin, Malik Gingles, both stars on the Ashbrook (N.C.) High basketball team, were arrested on one count each of misdemeanor larceny after a shoplifting incident at a local Kohl’s department store.
According to Brown, who has known Whaley since Whaley was about 12, it was mostly a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time for Whaley.
“His cousin put on a jacket, then another jacket over that jacket,” Brown explained. “Isaiah didn’t do anything, he just happened to be with his cousin.”
But Brown noted that Whaley learned a lot from the incident.
“You’ve got to be aware with who you’re hanging with,” Brown said. “And you’ve got to make sure you’re doing the right thing, whatever you have to do to calculate it. Even though he didn’t take the jacket, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. From that, it kind of changed his life. A lot of people backed off (recruiting) when that happened. That was kind of the bottom point of his teenage years.
“That turned him into a young man,” Brown continued. “He acted a certain way, really analyzed his surroundings and the environment of where he was. Now, he carries himself with a different type of demeanor. I’ve seen him evolve, put his head down and work.”
Brown said Whaley got A’s in all six courses this past semester.
“(UConn is) getting a special kid. Not only does he have the intangibles on the court - blocking shots, running the floor, rebounding, protecting the rim, scoring off the block, just a high energy, high-motor guy - but you’re getting a great character kid that has come from humble beginnings.”