He arrived last year with the reputation of a guy who could stuff a stat line as well as any incoming freshman in America. And he belonged to John Calipari’s Wildcats – probably for just one season.
Isaiah Briscoe could shoot it. Oh, sure, he could use his superior quickness to attack the rim, muscling his defender inside. At Kentucky, he’d be sharing the basketball with two other point guards, Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis, but that was okay. Let them bring the ball up the floor.
Briscoe would shoot.
And he did – over and over, with little success. Throughout the 2015-16 season, Briscoe’s jump shots failed with staggering regularity. He finished the season a chilly 44 percent from the floor, a bewildering 46 percent from the free throw line and a frightening 13.5 percent from behind the three-point arc.
He’d been blessed with skills that had carried him to the pinnacle of college basketball, a wide spot on the road to the riches of the NBA. Only, it seemed, his body had betrayed him.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard that,” Briscoe said with a smile. He thought for a moment, considering the notion. “Yeah, why not?”
And if his body had, indeed, turned on him – inflicting his mechanics with miniscule blemishes that rendered his previously sweet jumper seriously flawed, Briscoe set out this summer to re-gain command.
“I’ve been in the gym,” he said, “trying to get my muscle memory right.”
And there’s only one way to do that.
“Just shooting,” he said. “Shooting, shooting, shooting.”
And from all accounts, it’s paying off. Sophomore big man Isaac Humphries says that in pickup games, Briscoe “never misses.” And his coach has taken notice.
“You know what I’m saying to Isaiah every practice?” Calipari asked. “You shoot every open shot. If you have a three or a jump shot, you shoot it. If you don’t shoot it, I’m going to get on you”.
It was Calipari who played a major role, predictably, in Briscoe
returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season. The thought that he might actually enter the NBA Draft may have seemed ridiculous to Big Blue fans who suffered every time Briscoe clanged one off the rim last season. But the Newark, N.J. native said private workouts for
NBA teams went so well after the season that he actually considered rolling the dice with his professional future.
Then he turned to the coaches – Calipari and his top assistant, Kenny Payne. And while they acknowledged that Briscoe had been performing well for the scouts, they also suggested that he back up those performances with another season of college ball, one that included him actually making field goals and free throws, so that when the 2017 draft rolls around, he won’t have to sit and wait, heart pounding and palms sweating.
“I trust Cal and I trust KP,” Briscoe said. “So I decided to come back. And I’m happy to be here.”
He might have launched enough bricks to build a barbecue pit, but Briscoe found other ways to contribute last season, which is what kept him on the floor. Slashing to the basket, rebounding, playing defense – ironically, his shooting woes forced him to more quickly develop the other elements of his game.
“Unbelievable on the court, unbelievable,” Calipari said of Briscoe’s pre-season work. “Shooting the ball better, really proud of him. Still the same defending, rebounding guard that he was.”
He’s also working on becoming more of a leader, on and off the court. That’s what a perpetually young Kentucky team will need, every year.
He didn’t say if it was the worst season of his young life, but it’s hard to believe Briscoe ever suffered through anything like it. And now, it’s just a painful memory.
“I got through it. It’s over with,” he said. “I’m here for a new year.”