Isaiah West is like most 15-year-old basketball players: he wants to play in the NBA someday.
Unlike his peers, West actually has a chance to make that happen.
The Goodpasture freshman is averaging nearly 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals through his first 20 high school games. He often goes for stylish dunks rather than settling for layups.
“He has that complete package – the wow factor,” Goodpasture coach Adam Sonn said. “You see some of the athleticism and flash and skill. If things go right, he’s going to be a special, special player. And he already is.”
West, a Springfield native, is already known on the national AAU circuit and by college scouts. Per NCAA rules, he can’t have direct contact with college coaches yet. But that has not stopped schools like Memphis, Missouri, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, Vanderbilt and others from expressing their interest through his AAU coach David Keary.
Brandan Wright, Corey Brewer, John Jenkins and Darius Garland are a few of the recent Middle Tennessee standouts to be selected in the NBA Draft. Both of West’s coaches believe he could have a similar trajectory.
“I expect Isaiah to be a top-10 prospect his senior year (in the ESPN Top 100),” Keary said. “The opportunity is there. He has the mindset and the talent to do so. Four years from now, we could be seeing him in the NBA Draft.”
West started late, accelerated quickly
West spent most of his early youth playing baseball and football in Springfield. He didn’t start basketball until age eight and didn’t join Keary’s Nashville Youth Basketball Association (NYBA) program until age 12.
“AAU kind of opened my eyes to how many good (players) are out there,” West said. “I started taking it seriously and getting in the gym all the time. I work out any time I can get to the gym.”
West, who stands 6-foot-3, started as a forward because of his height. Over the last year, Keary has helped West turn into a guard on the advice of scouts. He is now listed as the No. 9 prospect for the Class of 2023 by the Naismith National Youth All-American Report.
“He has a very high ceiling because he’s kind of just getting started,” Keary said. “In my eyes, he is still really rough and will get a lot better, especially at the guard position. He outworks everybody.”
West played three seasons at Springfield Middle School from 2015-18 before transferring to Goodpasture for the 2018-19 school year. He reclassified and repeated eighth grade instead of immediately starting high school.
Given his April birthday and his late AAU start, the move allowed him to keep with other top prospects.
“When you play high-level basketball, a lot of the kids are older for their grade,” Keary said. “He was already behind the learning curve. (Reclassifying) gave him an extra year to refine his game, and that was big for him.”
‘Beyond his years’
West excels in the classroom and has a high basketball IQ, according to Sonn. He spends significant time watching film and asking questions outside of practice.
“What impresses me most is his mind and understanding of the game,” Sonn said. “That’s what sets him apart. This kid is beyond his years in a lot of ways.”
Despite missing six games with a foot sprain, West is at or near the team lead in most statistical categories. The Cougars finished the regular season 23-3 and are looking to make a run at the DII-A state title.
“I want to win a state championship,” West said. “That’s the real goal. We have the potential to do it.”
The standout hasn’t had any problems meshing with his high school teammates. When the Goodpasture coaches asked West what his freshman season goals were, they were stunned by his unselfish answer.
“I’m thinking that a freshman would want to start or to average a certain amount of points or something,” Sonn said. “Isaiah was like, ‘I want to make sure everyone is involved (on the court) in the right way.’ That’s his character.”
West’s dedication to the team has rubbed off on others. Along with junior point guard PJay Smith, West is often in the gym as early as 6:30 a.m. to shoot around before school. The rest of the Cougar underclassmen have followed their lead.
“Some of these other freshmen are in here shooting and working on their game because they see Isaiah doing it,” Sonn said. “They just feel that’s what freshmen do. When in reality, it’s not. It’s what Isaiah and PJay do.”
Still more to prove
West may still be early on his path to stardom, but he has already gotten a taste of the spotlight. He has almost 8,000 Instagram followers and a clip of one of his alley-oop dunks went viral last spring.
He has also played with and against some of the best. One former AAU teammate, Mikey Williams, touts offers from Arizona, Arkansas and Southern California. Williams scored 77 points in a game for San Ysidro (Calif.) High School earlier this season.
Last April, West and Williams’ NYBA Elite squad beat the North Coast Blue Chips and Lebron James Jr. in front of 1,000 people. James, better known as Bronny, is regarded as one of the top 2023 prospects.
“It was good for Isaiah to play with Mikey and kind of be in that atmosphere,” Keary said. “Everywhere we went, there were seven or eight cameras following us around. He got a grasp of what it’s going to be like on that big stage.”
Keary is set to coach the Georgia Stars this summer on the Nike Elite Circuit, where West will join him.
“I think it’s the best basketball circuit out there right now,” West said. “The competition is (higher) than what I’ve been used to. I’ll see a lot of players that I’ve never played before.”
West doesn’t have any official college offers yet, but Keary expects that to change by the summer. He also said West will likely be on ESPN’s Class of 2023 Top 25 list when it gets released in the spring.
With a relatively polished game already known on the national radar, what can West improve?
“That’s such a hard question,” Sonn said. “There’s a whole lot of things that are good already. He has a long way to go, but he’s already really, really proficient at a lot of things. It’s about continuing to push the limit and not settling.”
Keary agreed, saying that West can still find an extra gear – the kind of swagger that made former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant and others great.
“There are times when he can dominate the game, and sometimes you have to say, ‘Isaiah, go dominate,’” Keary said. “And then he’ll do it. Getting that killer mentality – that Mamba mentality – will be the icing on the cake for him.”