Nba draft prospect Isaiah Stewart’s game evokes a throwback feel. He plays a lot like former New York Knicks‘ franchise big man Patrick Ewing at the post.
In Stewart’s lone season with the Washington Huskies, the 6-foot-9 forward/center from upstate Rochester routinely beats his man with fundamentally sound footwork that usually ends up with a monster slam, a leaner on the glass, a baby hook, or a smooth turnaround jumper.
Shades of Ewing, right?
Because Stewart grew up idolizing the Knicks Hall of Fame center.
“The reason why I wear 33 is because of Patrick Ewing. Growing up, he’s the player I used to watch a lot. I was always on youtube, arguing with other people about Patrick Ewing,” Stewart said on a zoom call with reporters.
His Jamaican heritage is the ties that bind him with Ewing. He’s heard Ewing’s exploits from his father, Dela Stewart, a Jamaican who emigrated to the United States in the 1970s originally in Florida for farm work and later on moved to Rochester, New York, for construction work.
Stewart’s affinity to Ewing grew even bigger when a family friend and area youth coach in Rochester, Dr. Michael Maloney, a Georgetown graduate, introduced him to the Knicks legend.
Although Stewart ultimately decided to take his talents to the Huskies because of his close relationship with coach Mike Hopkins, who’s been scouting him since his freshman year at McQuaid Jesuit High School, he said it was a tough decision.
“It was hard for me to say no to Georgetown, especially with Patrick Ewing recruiting me. Him having that Jamaican background, and my dad is Jamaican, they connected pretty easily. That was a great visit, and he was recruiting me hard,” Stewart recalled. “I definitely considered Georgetown.”
He made waves as a 6-foot-7 freshman in Rochester that registered back-to-back 40-point games. That put him on the scouts’ radar ever since.
After two seasons at McQuaid, Stewart transferred to La Lumiere School in Indiana, where he blossomed into a consensus five-star recruit and a top-five player in the 2019 class.
As La Lumiere’s double-double machine (18.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks) that powered the prestigious prep program to a 30-1 record, Stewart won the Naismith Prep Player of the Year, Mr. USA Basketball awards. He played in all top high school camps (McDonald’s All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic, and Nike Hoop Summit).
Even as a college freshman, Stewart’s 7-foot-4 wingspan and his 250-lb frame was an imposing presence under Hopkins’ zone. He averaged 17.0 points on 57 percent field goal shooting, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks to earn All-Pac-12 selection.
If this was the late 80s or 90s, Stewart should be a surefire lottery pick.
But times have changed. The NBA game has evolved.
And Stewart, just a 19-year old kid with a grown man’s body, found the global pandemic an opportunity to expand his game and hopefully rise in the NBA teams’ boards as the Draft Day approaches.
“Shooting has been one of my main focuses. I’ve come a long way to that,” said Stewart, who shot 25 percent from deep in college.
Stewart played a traditional big man role under Hopkins and only attempted 20 triples in 32 games, making five of them.
Ewing may have strongly influenced his game, but Stewart said he’s been watching a lot of today’s NBA big men too as he prepares for the next level.
“With today’s generation of people at my position, some of the guys I’ve been watching a lot are Bam Adebayo, Montrezl Harrell, guys that feel like the same mold as me,” Stewart said.
If he can combine Adebayo’s playmaking skills with Harrell’s brute power, Stewart can thrive in the modern NBA.
“People know I bring, at the end of the day, my motor — hard work, run the floor, rebounding, and just doing the little things that may not show up in the stats sheet. To put my game in a nutshell, I’m the person who just does anything it takes to win. But the one thing that I think I’ll show you is my shooting ability,” Stewart said. “That will surprise a lot of people.”
Mostly mocked from mid to late first round, Stewart has both interviewed with the New York teams — the Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets though he declined to reveal which teams he had an in-personal workout with.
Stewart is an option and could be a steal at No. 27 if he’s still available and if the Knicks decide to use their eighth pick at drafting a point guard.
“I think that will be great—definitely a lot of Knicks fans from Rochester. With New York not being that far away from Rochester, I’m sure if the Knicks draft me at [No.] 27, I’ll have a lot of fans come up here and support me. That will be great,” Stewart said.
He sees no problem playing alongside Knicks’ current big man Mitchell Robinson, claiming his toughness is tailor-made for New York.
“[I can fit] easily [with] my physicality right away. In order for you to play in New York, you have to be tough. That’s who I am,” Stewart said. “I feel like I can play next to a big with me getting to shoot the ball and stretch the floor.”
But regardless of who picks him, he said they would get an NBA-ready player.
“I expect to be impactful and be able to go from Day One,” Stewart said.
Like Ewing did in New York.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo