Coach Mike Hopkins practically cheers with excitement and does pushups when you tell him that there’s no traffic on the way to Hec-Ed. I imagine that his voice will be gone for a month with the hollering he has done over today’s news as the Huskies just reeled in a commitment from 5-star big man Isaiah Stewart.
The 6’9 center from Rochester, New York verbally committed to Washington over Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky, and Syracuse as well as offers from nearly every school in the country. He is rated as the #6 prospect nationally per the 247 Sports composite and it marks the first time since 2006 (Spencer Hawes) that Washington has been able to reel in a 5-star big man.
Stewart will be able to sign a LOI and make it official beginning on April 17th during the regular signing period. He joins fellow UW commits SG RaeQuan Battle (4*, #84 overall) and CG Marcus Tsohonis (3*, #282 overall) as members of the 2019 class. Both Battle and Tsohonis signed during the early signing period. Washington moves up to the #19 class nationally in the 247 Composite rankings with Stewart’s commitment.
It was clear that Coach Hop took a major risk for the class of 2019 when he seemingly gambled on bringing in at least one of 5-stars Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels without much of a plan B. Now, he has seen his confidence pay off and the dream is still out there of adding McDaniels as well. During his announcement Stewart mentioned that his next step is to recruit McDaniels to join him with the Huskies.
Isaiah Stewart on Washington: "I feel like they deserve a top recruit. It's been awhile. I'm going after Jaden McDaniels now. We trying to build something out there. ... if we get him, man, game-changer."— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) January 21, 2019
There were questions about whether Coach Hop would be able to get recruits all the way across the country to Seattle with his New York connections but Nahziah Carter and Hameir Wright are already big components of this season’s team and Stewart is the crown jewel. Hopkins was the first coach to recruit Stewart back when Isaiah was in the 8th grade and the strength of that relationship won out over everything else. It also helped that Carter and Stewart played on the same AAU team and have known each other for years which will make Stewart’s adjustment to Seattle easier.
Stewart will come in and immediately take over for Noah Dickerson as Washington’s best low post scorer and rebounder. Most recruiting analysts believe that Stewart is perhaps the most college ready player in the class even if he doesn’t have quite the NBA upside of someone like Jaden McDaniels. Although NBADraft.net still has Stewart going 9th in their most recent 2020 mock draft (McDaniels is slotted to go 2nd).
Isaiah was the 2nd best rebounder in the Nike EYBL and averaged a double double with 18 points and 11 rebounds per game against the best high school competition out there. He has shown some ability to shoot from the outside and can hit a midrange jumper when facing up a defender. But his primary game will be to anchor the paint on both ends of the floor. Stewart blocked about 1.4 shots per game during the EYBL and has a 7’4 wingspan so he has upside as a shot blocker even if he’s not quite a dominant defensive force. But he should be an upgrade over Dickerson in that regard while putting up numbers similar to what Noah produced in his 1st-team all-conference season last year.
As mentioned earlier, Jaden McDaniels is still looming as the last piece of the 2019/20 team but even without him the addition of Stewart should prevent much of if any drop off. Here’s a look at my current projected 2-deep for conference play (which is when PG Quade Green become eligible):
PG: Quade Green, Elijah Hardy
SG: Jaylen Nowell, RaeQuan Battle
SF: Nahziah Carter, Jamal Bey
PF: Hameir Wright, Nate Roberts
C: Isaiah Stewart, Bryan Penn-Johnson/Sam Timmins
There’s still a chance that Jaylen Nowell could leave for the NBA and it seems that’s what he’d like to do but the highest I’ve seen him in mock draft is the 31st pick of 2020 rather than this year. If NBA GM’s agree that he’s not a 1st rounder right now then he’ll likely be back next year. Quade Green seems very likely to be an upgrade over David Crisp and while there will be a clear drop on the defensive end from Thybulle to and while there will certainly be a drop off on defense from Matisse Thybulle to Naz Carter, the hope is that Carter’s extra offense can make that close to a wash.
If that’s the roster then I would put initial expectations to be a Pac-12 title contender and an NCAA tournament worthy team. But add McDaniels on top of that team and things get even more exciting (note that McDaniels sounds nowhere close to ready to make a decision so expect another couple months of waiting on that front).
Getting at least one instant impact player in 2019 to stem the loss of 4 seniors was essential to keep the program from taking a step back and to avoid a rebuilding year. It’s also critical to help secure a 2020 recruiting class which is shaping up to be a monster. The Huskies can be considered if not favorites then at least in the top couple choices for 5 prospects who are 4 or 5-stars in that class. Even if Stewart, Nowell, (and McDaniels if he comes) all declare for the draft then you still have, pending possible transfers: Green, Carter, Wright, Bey, Hardy, BPJ, Roberts, and Battle to form a very solid veteran foundation with a nice blend of instant impact players and 3+ year contributors coming in behind them in 2020.
Husky fans should be cheering just as loudly as Coach Hopkins today because today’s news was the necessary first step in a plan that should allow Washington to be competing for Pac-12 titles at a minimum for quite a while.
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