CHICAGO – The first, and perhaps most important, thing you should know about Isaiah Briscoe is that he’s better than you at, well, everything.
Yes, that super-random thing you swear that you’re the king of, he’ll dominate you at it.
“I’m the best at everything,” Briscoe says. “It doesn’t matter what it is; spitting… You wanna see who can spit the furthest right now?”
Yes, he’s serious.
No, I didn’t bite. Truth is, I thought I’d lose.
Brazen? Without a doubt.
“On the court, you already know,” says Briscoe, a point guard at Roselle Catholic (Roselle, N.J.). “I’m 100 percent cocky when I’m hooping, yes.”
That’s right, cocky. That word that carries a negative connotation and makes people utterly uncomfortable. Forget about the fact that he’s signed to Kentucky, the 38-0 Final Four squad on anyone’s short list for most hated programs, regardless of the sport.
Briscoe is not one of the Cosby kids. He’s not one of those do-gooders who masks his on-court conceit with the cliché spiel about how people confuse confidence with cockiness.
“No, I own it, man,” Briscoe says with a laugh. “I am who I am.”
Even better, it’s who he has to be — a merciless ballplayer who dominates on the court by any means necessary, even if that means having to play the jerk. The one who won’t be denied and is so competitive he doesn’t know how to just play for fun. That’s the true essence of who he is and what will be on display Wednesday when Briscoe leads the East against the West in the McDonald’s All American Game (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) at the United Center.
“Zay has his own way of thinking on the court,” Briscoe’s father, George Briscoe, says. “I played ball. I was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Stockton State College and I felt like I was confident, but he’s on another level. He’s sure of himself like I’ve never seen in anyone.”
You’d have to rewind back to Isaiah’s seventh-grade year to find roots of his mentality.
Back then, in the Newark, N.J., area where Isaiah grew up, the smart money for who was the “next big thing” was on his friend Nassir Barrino.
Both were the same age and played together with New Jersey’s famed Playaz Basketball Club in AAU. One night, while Barrino was staying at Isaiah’s house, Barrino got the call that he was moving up to play with the elite team. Isaiah didn’t get the memo that they only wanted Barrino.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” George says. “He woke me up at like 7 a.m. that day of the game and he was like, ‘Dad, come on, we’ve got a game! Let’s go.’ I had to tell him that he didn’t have a game, Nas had a game. I feel like that hurt him, like his dad was taking someone else to a game that he wanted to play in, but wasn’t picked for. Two things happened: It made us closer and it made him a killer on the court. He’s just at another level with his mentality.”
Take this week at the McDonald’s All American pre-game festivities and practices. With 24 of the best high school basketball players in the country present, obviously, confidence abounds. But Isaiah’s got that kind of natural bravado that diminishes even the most self-assured of players.
Makes sense for an 18-year-old who earned the nickname “Must-See TV” for dominating the New York City blacktop scene and spends the offseason using his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame to hold his own against NBA stars like his cousin Kyrie Irving, Carmelo Anthony, Kemba Walker and J.R. Smith.
“You start competing against those guys and you can’t help but to think a certain way when you come back to the high school game,” George says. “He’s just a killer on that court, plain and simple.”
And being a “killer” is what makes him special, according to ESPN recruiting analyst Reggie Rankin.
“I love that he’s got that in him,” says Rankin, who ranks Briscoe No. 1 among point guards in the ESPN 100. “I think you’ve gotta have that to be consistent. That’s what makes him even more effective. He’s a strong, physical, take-no-prisoners rim attacker and that motivating cockiness helps him. He plays like he’s got something to prove. That’s truly a gift.”
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Still, let’s be honest, cockiness, on the court or otherwise, is just annoying unless you’re winning; only then are people forced to put up with it on some level.
Good thing Isaiah’s resume reads like a lifetime achievement speech: Back-to-back state titles with Roselle Catholic in 2014 and 2015, 2014 Nike Peach Jam title, 2014 USA U18 gold medal, 2015 First Team ALL-USA and, after he guaranteed a win a year prior, Isaiah led Roselle Catholic to the Tournament of Champions title last week.
“To be honest, I always felt like I was the best,” says Isaiah, who averaged 20.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and four assists a game this season. “Even when I was the chubby kid ‘Boogie’ with nothing but handles, my mind knew what to do, but I wasn’t physically able to do it. See, where I’m at now, I’ve been planning this for five or six years. Are there times when I’m humble? Yes, but there’s a time for that; on the court is not the time. I’m not the guy who can just walk away after I dunk on somebody; absolutely not. It is what it is.”
He is, however, the kind of guy who would become instant best friends with two kids – Parker and Cody – on his first visit to the Ronald McDonald House.
“Oh man, that may have been the highlight of this whole week,” Isaiah says. “Loved hanging out with those two little guys. I’m gonna keep in touch with them. That’s my other side; I love that stuff. I’m not cocky in a sense that I think I’m better than you as a person. I just think, competitively, I’m better than you at anything. But, I’m also the kind of person that doesn’t care if you don’t believe that. I’m just an alpha male. That’s what I’m bringing to Kentucky next year.”
Can that translate into as successful a season – 38-0 and a Final Four berth – as the Wildcats are having this year?
“Whoa, I’m not gonna lie, they’ve set the bar pretty high,” he says with a laugh. “But I’m up for the challenge; I’m up for any challenge.”
That much was evident when an impromptu rap battle broke out among his friends Tuesday at the McDonald’s All American media day.
Isaiah was in a sit-down interview when he heard his best friend Antonio Blakeney rapping about himself and Ben Simmons, LSU signees who have been dubbed the “Killer B’s” by Tigers fans.
Briscoe abruptly finishes up the interview, darts over to the group, grabs the mic and starts in.
“I heard you rappin’ you gonna get your Killer B/How you Killer B if you don’t mention me?/You need eye contacts or glasses just to see?” Briscoe raps while taking his glasses off and placing them on Blakeney’s face.
Immediately, he bursts into laughter; his friends follow suit.
“Nah, man you wrote that!” Blakeney says. “This guy came at me!”
It’s crystal clear who’s won this round, but to reinforce the point, Briscoe stares Blakeney down and nods.
True alpha male indeed.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY