- Next up in our freshman intro series is the nation's No. 2 recruit, Washington big man Isaiah Stewart.
In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. In 2019, six of the top 10 NBA draft picks were one-and-done, and eight of the 14 lottery picks overall. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond. Just look at last year’s group of rookies we profiled: Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans, Jalen Smith and Devon Dotson lead a whopping 12 former 2018 five-stars back for a sophomore season.
With all of that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball for 2019–20 and breaking down the impact those players could have. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. Next up is the No. 2 overall recruit, Washington's Isaiah Stewart. You can view all of the profiles to date here.
What He Means for Washington’s Recruiting Class
The leader of the Huskies' new pack is five-star forward Isaiah Stewart. The 6’9”, 240-pound big man headlines a four-man crew coming to Washington. His commitment brought full-circle a recruitment that began when Hopkins was the top assistant at Syracuse and Stewart was a promising freshman at McQuaid Jesuit in Rochester, N.Y. Stewart then evolved into a blue-chip recruit at Indiana high school powerhouse La Lumiere, while Hopkins began a rebuild in Seattle. Stewart picked Washington over Duke and Michigan State, with Kentucky and Syracuse also in his final five. Local star Jaden McDaniels (No. 7) joins Stewart as one of two five-star additions to the team. McDaniels is the top-ranked power forward in the class of 2019 and his last-spring decision to join Stewart made Mike Hopkins the only coach to land two top-10 recruits this cycle. The talented frontcourt duo are joined by four-star shooting guard RaeQuan Battle (No. 78) and three-star point guard Marcus Tsohonis (No. 315) as well as Kentucky transfer Quade Green and USC’s J’Raan Brooks. Green won’t be eligible until midway through the season and Brooks has to sit the entirety of 2019–20, but even without the latter, Hopkins still has five new helpful faces to put on the floor as he rebuilds after a string of departures.
How He Fits
Stewart should step into Noah Dickerson’s vacated center spot and help to anchor Hopkins’s Syracuse-inspired 2–3 zone while McDaniels slides in alongside him. Immediate impact is expected from the two five-star freshmen, who will lay the foundation for a formidable frontcourt and should lead the charge in reloading after the aforementioned roster losses. Washington is without four of Hopkins’s starters from last year’s NCAA tournament team—leading scorer Jaylen Nowell (and Pac-12 Player of the Year) left early for the draft and the team's defensive anchor, Mattise Thybulle, plus Dickerson (the team’s leading rebounder) and point guard David Crisp, all graduated. Reserve big man Dominic Green is also out of eligibility. Returning big men Nahziah Carter and Hamier Wright (a starter from last season) will both still be around for their junior seasons to help fill out the rotation, as is Washington’s 2018 recruiting class headliner Jamal Bey.
Stewart is the highest-profile recruit in Hopkins’s two years at the helm. The McDonald’s All-American is one of the most productive players in the class of 2019 and could be the best overall rebounder. With a reported 7’4” wingspan, Stewart has some serious length that help him dominate on the boards—particularly offensively, where he’s a huge asset on put backs—and at the rim, where he absolutely dominates. He’s a physically-gifted, high-motor big man who can get up and down the floor particularly well for his size. Stewart uses his strength and quickness to create mismatches on the interior and is unafraid of contact. He’ll readily body his way to the basket and the rest of his offensive game continues to develop, particularly his jumper. He’s also a capable shot-blocker which gives the Huskies a boost on defense, as does his sheer presence in the paint. His size, power and ability to produce will make him a high-impact player for Washington, even if he’ll only likely be around for a single season. Stewart brings a consistently competitive approach every time he takes the floor and his heart and hustle certainly don’t hurt his upside.
With Stewart slotted in alongside McDaniels, who should also see starters minutes from the jump, Washington’s frontcourt should be able to stack up with anyone in the Pac-12 and help make up for the team’s departures. McDaniels is a bit of a more developed offensive asset away from the glass–he handles the ball especially well for a big man, has a natural scoring touch and is an underrated passer–and Stewart should lock down the boards on both ends of the floor. This year’s Huskies will be considerably less experienced than last season’s tournament team, but adding Stewart, McDaniels and Green helps replenish the lost star power on both ends of the floor. Battle and Tsohonis can help in the backcourt until Green is eligible—the former five-star recruit will likely slot in right as conference contests begin.
Importance to Washington's Success/Team Outlook
Washington needs all of its incoming talent to step up if it wants to swing another conference title or seriously contend in the NCAA tournament and that starts with its two top-10 freshmen up front. The departure of so many starters—and scorers—leaves a large load for Stewart and McDaniels to start carrying from Day 1. Hopkins has to find his new starting five—especially while Quade Green waits to become eligible until the end of the fall semester–and has to replace a ton of production. Stewart has a ton of upside and should serve as a solid anchor for the Huskies frontcourt and defensive-minded focus. Despite the decent amount of transition, expectations remain fairly high for Washington, which should be in play for an NCAA tournament bid and stay in the middle of the Pac-12 mix. A conference crown amid the anticipated adjustments and backcourt uncertainty could be tough, especially early on, but there’s still reason for optimism amid Hopkins’s rebuild.