Star players are expected to perform their best when the stakes are at their highest. Think Lebron James in game six of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics. When the season is on the line, teams will turn to their guy to take them home and they need to be able to handle that pressure.
In March 2013, Isaiah Hicks proved that he could handle that type of pressure. Having brought his high school, Oxford Webb High, to within a game of their first state title, Hicks would be counted on to deliver a victory against Statesville High. With a 34 points, 30 rebounds and seven blocks performance in a 73-70 overtime win, one might say he delivered.
Hearing this news must be like music for the ears of UNC fans who would love a big man who can provide big numbers in the paint as James Michael McAdoo is a different type of power forward who relies more on skill. For Hicks, it was always about UNC where he said he always wanted to play. In fact when Xavier called him, he told them straight up that if the the North Carolina Tar Heels were to call, he was going there. In fact, he has been committed to the Tar Heels since 2011.
Have a look at Hicks’ highlights throughout his high school career.
For a big man, Hicks runs the floor extremely well. In transition he is dangerous both as the man grabbing the rebound, because he throw a great outlet pass, and as the man running the floor, because he can finish on the break as well as any player in the nation. Hicks combines great speed with excellent effort thanks to his never ending motor. He is a five star recruit who hustles like a two star one which is always what a coach wants to see.
On an athletic level, Hicks is one of the best prospects in the nation. He clocks in around 6″8 and 210 pounds with a 6″11 wingspan and he can get off the floor in a hurry. Hicks has a great vertical and excellent foot speed, often looking more like a guard out there then a burly power forward.
Another great aspect to his game is that he has very good hands that makes it easy for guards to deliver passes to him. They don’t have to be perfect because Hicks can reach out and get harder passes that a lot of big men would not be able to gather up. On the break, his ability to catch passes make him even more dangerous because leaving him to try and stop the ball is a gamble that will probably end in a dunk or an alley-oop.
When it comes to playing defense, Hicks has great potential as a paint defender and especially as a weak side defender. His vertical and long arms make it easy for him to block shots at the rim, which he does at a high level. Hicks alters a lot of other shots just by being an intimidating presence, he is long and lean and looks like he would be hard to go over.
An area where Hicks should excel from day one is as a rebounder. Whether it be offensively or defensively, Hicks hits the boards with reckless abandon. The great rebounders are usually able to tell where the ball will bounce out before anyone else, Hicks seems to have that instinct. Though he is not as tall as other forwards, he seems to come up with a lot of loose balls. It is enough to remind someone of Kevin Love at times, the ball just seems to find him.
Skill wise, Hicks is still fairly raw and has a lot of work to do to become an impact player in the NCAA. Offensively, he needs to add a post game and a consistent jump shot. His shooting form is not consistent and he does not look confident on the floor shooting it outside the paint. This has gotten better over his senior season as he has started to show the ability to hit from mid range but he will need to work on it further at UNC. Hicks has shown the ability to face up where he has been getting most of his points on offense, but he will need to improve that as well.
On the defensive end, he will need to learn the game a little more. While Hicks is a good shot blocker, he is often too focused on getting the swat which causes him to either over-commit or end up with a silly foul. Once Hicks learns when to come over from the weak side, how to read plays as they are happening and how to operate within a defensive system, he should become a strong defender thanks to his physical skills and athleticism. It will just take patience from the Tar Heels and from Hicks to get there. Patience and a lot of practice of course.
When it comes to a purely physical standpoint, Hicks will need to get stronger. His long, lanky frame is conducive to getting pushed around in the paint a fair amount. It has happened to Hicks when playing against people his size at events like all star games and elite camps. Gaining some bulk through weight lifting would go a long way into helping him in the post both as a scorer and as a defender. As he is still young, in fact he turns 19 in nine days, Hicks will naturally fill out his frame as he ages but helping it along with a strength program would never hurt.
What to expect at UNC:
Because Hicks is so raw, he would be best suited to come off the bench as he develops his all around game. Thankfully for UNC, they will have the ability to do that since James Michael McAdoo has decided to return for his junior season. Not only is McAdoo a great player, he will be a great mentor for Hicks and he can help him along with a lot of areas in his game.
While it is not likely that Hicks will start, he should see the floor a good amount of have chances to show flashes of the player he could become. In terms of coaching, it is hard to think of a better staff that could help Hicks along than Roy Williams and his team of assistants. Given a year to play behind McAdoo, Hicks should be ready to assume the starting role by his sophomore season and could really turn some heads when he does.
In his freshman season, his rebounding and athleticism on the break will instantly transfer over. Hicks will provide great effort off the bench on the boards and will be a boost of excitement when he comes in the game. As he develops, he will have more and more chances to play in key situations and prove he belongs. Hicks should be a great addition to UNC from day one who will pay off more and more with every practice.