The clock ticked under 30 seconds as the Tar Heels held a one-point lead in the 2017 National Championship. But as the game clock inched towards zero, the shot clock moved even faster. UNC needed to get a shot off and the ball found the hands of senior forward Isaiah Hicks.
From the top of the key, Hicks muscled his way to the basket, steadied the ball in his right hand, and knocked in a pivotal shot off the glass. In an up and down senior campaign, Hicks had capped off his season with a title and a championship caliber play.
After reaching the peak of college basketball, Hicks will now aim toward a career in the NBA. The Oxford, North Carolina, native will hope to hear his name called June 22. Mock drafts have Hicks going in the late second round or winding up undrafted. If a team decides to take a flier on the big man, they will not be sorry.
NBA teams have shown concern about Hicks’ height as he comes in shorter than most NBA bigs. But in four years at UNC, Hicks displayed excellent athleticism whether by skying for an offensive rebound or flying towards the rim on an alley-oop finish.
Undersized players make up for their deficiency through effort and athleticism, both of which Hicks has shown to have in copious amounts. The forward helped lead the Tar Heels to high marks in rebounding, tallying 5.5 boards per game his senior year.
While his rebounding numbers could have been higher, Hicks showed he could perform when it counted. The NBA hopeful grabbed nine and seven rebounds in his team’s two games against Duke this past year. To add to his pivotal bucket, Hicks totaled nine rebounds in the championship win over Gonzaga.
NBA teams should look at Hicks’ year-to-year improvements—the rise in production reflects who he is as a player, but also tells a story about his character. Hicks elevated his scoring, going from 6.6 points as a sophomore and 8.9 as a junior to 11.8 in his final collegiate season. His 5.5 rebounds as a senior was his highest total in his four-year career.
Hicks faced criticism throughout those four years, particularly from people who thought he could be doing more. And to be fair, the forward encountered rough patches, many of which stemmed from consistent foul trouble. Hicks could not influence a game because of early fouls—the big man fouled out of five games last season.
With a six-foul allotment in the pros, Hicks will benefit from more leeway with the way he plays. Fouls will be less of an issue because the forward will likely be used as a role player in the 10-15 minutes per game area. Hicks has admitted that early fouls got into his head. With a minimized role and one extra foul to give, I see a burden taken off Hicks’ back as he enters the highest level of basketball.
Related to fouls, the NBA has become more attuned to making foul calls, particularly when it comes to physical contact. Hicks has not shied away from bumping and banging down low, which could lead to time at the charity stripe.
Forwards and centers tend to struggle at the foul line and become singled out during games just for that. Shooting 78 percent from the line as a senior, Hicks displayed his ability as a formidable threat with the freebees. Along with points and rebounds, the national champion improved his free throw stroke year to year.
As a freshman, Hicks stumbled out of the gate, shooting 58 percent at the line but improved to 62 percent the following season. Eventually topping out at 77 percent, Hicks can benefit a team with his calmness at the line and his ability to perform in the bigger moments.
With younger players being the focus of the draft, Hicks brings more experience to the table along with maturity. Many of the top prospects spent just a single year in college and never experienced the intensity that is the ACC and NCAA tournaments. The former McDonald’s All American excelled on the big stage, shown by the National Championship and his performances against Duke.
But Hicks has more than just athletic ability. The forward has an upbeat demeanor that shows on and off the court. Beyond that, he has shown to have a big heart and compassion as a human being. Character becomes overlooked when games are on the line but teams should consider personality when looking at Hicks.
While in high school, Hicks befriended Meghan Bunn, a young girl who was battling cancer. He served as a hero to Bunn, although she favored the team in Raleigh more so than the Tar Heels. Hicks told WRALSportsFan that it opened his heart to see a young girl going through something such as a battle with cancer.
As the draft nears, teams will have their preferences on whom to select and likely will have to change their paths as the draft unfolds. Based on his ability and character, Hicks deserves to be picked and would serve a team well if selected. Hicks is a champion on and off the court, and will make the most of any opportunity given.