NBA Draft Analyst Matt Babcock recently talked to prospect Isaiah Stewart of the Washington Huskies. They discussed his college recruitment, his biggest influences, the 2020 NBA Draft, and more.
Matt Babcock: I’d like to start off by asking you about your background. Where are you from?
Isaiah Stewart: I'm from Rochester, New York. I was born and raised here.
Tell me about your family. Are your parents from New York? Do you have any siblings?
I'm the youngest of seven siblings. My father is from Saint Mary, Jamaica. I grew up with my dad. He raised me and groomed me to be who I am today. Growing up with my pops, like most Jamaican parents, he was strict and protective. He came to the U.S. to cut sugar cane, fruits and worked on farms. He eventually made his way up to Rochester, New York. He had me and my brother, who are a year apart. When my dad got to Rochester he did construction work for ten plus years. When people talk about me, my hard work, my motor, and my drive, that's where I got it from. I grew up watching my dad work hard to put food on the table for me and my brother and put a roof over our heads. That's definitely where I've gotten my work ethic.
You attended the University of Washington, that’s about as far away from New York as possible. How did you decide to go there?
When I was about fourteen, “Coach Hop” (Mike Hopkins) was at Syracuse and he really recruited me hard. He wanted me to come to Syracuse, but then he made the move to be the head coach at the University of Washington. At first, I didn't think I was going to play at the University of Washington, so I looked at other options. Coach Hop and I never stopped talking though, and the further I went on in high school the more serious things got. I started to pay more attention to the University of Washington and it just went back to the relationship I had with Coach Hop. He had been there for everything since I was the age of fourteen.
When making a big decision like selecting a school, deciding whether to enter your name in the draft or not or hiring an agent, who do you lean on? Who’s in your inner circle?
Not many to be honest. Obviously, I've had Hop, but other than him and my parents, there's just my mentor here in Rochester, New York, Kevan Sheppard.
What agent and agency did you choose?
My agency is Roc Nation Sports and my agent is Drew Gross.
What was it about Drew and Roc Nation Sports that made you decide they were the right fit for you?
With Drew, we built our relationship pretty early. I looked at his work ethic, the mindset that he had, and I thought we were similar in the way we think and how we go about things. He's definitely a person with a hungry mindset and he's humble as well. With Roc Nation Sports, I feel like it's the best agency out there. I feel like they do it the right way, they protect you and make sure they do the very best that they can.
This past season at Washington you were used primarily as a low post scorer. Do you think the role that you played in college will translate to the NBA and are you planning to change your game at all to adapt to the NBA style of play?
I know my style in college was a bit different, but if people watch me in a workout setting I think they'd see that my game can easily translate to the NBA. I feel like there are things at the University Washington I didn't get to show that a lot of people are questioning. I know my game, I know what I can do, things I didn't get a chance to show and those things will translate and help me out big time at the next level. I don't really pay much attention to what people are saying. I'm working hard and I know that my game will translate. In terms of changing my game, I'm a guy that works on everything. I work hard on my game. I know that what I have already has gotten me to this point. Now, it's about adding tools to my game to help me succeed at the next level.
Your coach at Washington, Mike Hopkins, is a disciple of Jim Boeheim of Syracuse. Both of them are known for having their teams play a zone defense. Do you think there will be an adjustment for you to get back to playing man-to-man in the NBA?
No, because I've played man-to-man my whole life. That was one of the knocks on the University of Washington for me. I told Coach Hop I wasn't sure I wanted to go there because I didn't want to play zone. I wanted to play man-to-man. He didn't think I was going to choose the University of Washington, but I ended up choosing them anyway. I'm a guy who loves a challenge. I love playing man-to-man. It's something I've been doing my whole life. I feel like, after one year, I don't see why people have to question whether I can guard man-to-man when I've been doing it my whole life. If you look back at everything and everywhere I have played, I have always played man-to-man. I never had to go zone, and no one ever worried about me switching out onto a guard.
Many have gotten away from acknowledging the five traditional positions, and instead use guards, wings, and bigs. If you were to consider yourself one of the traditional five positions, would you say that you’re more of a four or a five?
I can be both, to be honest, but my whole life I've been playing the five. People who have actually watched me closely know my shooting ability and know that I can shoot the basketball. That will allow me to stretch the floor and be on the floor with another big guy. I can be a small ball five but I will not have any problem being at the four either.
I’m not suggesting I agree with these assumptions, as you know I’m a big supporter of yours, but some of your critics have implied that you will struggle against quickness at the four and NBA length at the five. What do you have to say about those statements?
Go look at all of these mock drafts, then go back to my high school days, look at who I matched up against, and see what I did to them. See what I did to every seven footer I went up against. I went up against Bol Bol in high school — go watch that match up. I played against length my whole life. I've played against quicker guys my whole life. I've played man-to-man my whole life. I played zone for one year and now people have question marks with this and that. I've been a guy that's been showing up since day one and busting everyone's ass. I don't know why people are questioning everything. I'm not a guy that's fallen off. I'm a guy that's kept on rising. I went to college and did what I had to do. People are going to say what they have to say, but at the end of the day, there's basketball. Everyone can have all of these questions that can't be answered right now but when basketball resumes they'll be answered. I can tell the people questioning me just to wait until we play ball again.
Are there any current or former players that you would compare yourself to?
Yes, the two guys that I watch the most are Montrezl Harrel and Bam Adebayo. Those are two small ball fives that I watch, and I see different ways that they have succeeded at the next level with scoring and helping their teams. A guy like Montrezl has a great motor and a will to not be denied. Then I watch Bam Adebayo and the way he passes the ball. That's something that I want to be great at, making the right passes and reads.
You’re arguably the strongest prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft. Where are you at with your physical development? Would you like to add more strength, thin down, or just maintain?
Honestly, I want to just maintain and take care of my body. I was blessed with the body that I have and strength. I just want to maintain and take care of it. I want to make sure that I'm putting the right stuff in my body to keep me going. That's pretty much it. I'm not really trying to add-on bulk or anything. I'm just trying to keep my body looking and feeling great.
Would you consider yourself to be a leader? And if so, are you more of a vocal leader, or do you lead by example?
Yes, I'm definitely a leader and I'd say that I'm both types. I'm a guy that's vocal, but at the same time, I lead by example. I know that actions are way more important than just saying something. I lead by my actions and not only say things -- I do them, too.
Ok, last one. I ask every player this question. Let’s pretend I’m an NBA general manager that’s considering drafting you. We have just gotten onto an elevator. What’s your elevator pitch as to why I should select you?
If you want a guy that's going to show up every day and be a professional that takes care of business, a guy that you don't have to worry about off the court and a guy you can always count on, then there is nobody else in the draft for you other than me. That's who I am and that's how I operate.