As NBA Draft Nears, Huskies' Isaiah Stewart Proving Hard to Resist

Dan Raley

Isaiah Stewart turned 19 last Friday.

Think about it: He played 32 games for the University of Washington basketball team this past season at an age when most people are still in high school.

But instead of getting a prom date, he's looking for an NBA dance partner. 

With the draft less than a month away on June 25, pro basketball analysts continually are looking for reasons not to like the chiseled 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward and they're having trouble finding them.

Stewart is holding steady as a middle to late first-round pick -- from No. 16 to 26 -- even jumping past former Husky teammate Jaden McDaniels for the first time in some of the mock drafts. 

For his height, he draws the common refrain that he's not a range shooter or a floor spacer. Yet more and more experts concede that Stewart has such refreshing work habits and unwavering character that anything is possible for this young New Yorker. 

While always respectful toward his coaches, teammates and anyone else he encounters, Stewart is making sure that he comes across as confident in his abilities and ready to step up whenever he's in discussions or interviews with NBA teams. He's doing this from Seattle, quarantined by the ongoing pandemic.

“I feel like I am someone who can play in an NBA game tomorrow physically," Stewart told ESPN. "With all the uncertainty about whether there will be a summer league or what type of offseason the NBA might have, it’s more important than ever to have a long body of work teams can look at. 

"People already know my reputation and what my character is as a person. I’ll continue to show NBA teams that over video conferences, Skype, FaceTime or whatever it might be.”

The analysts, while always looking for players with extraordinary talent that fit stated NBA dimensions, recognize that others who bring levels of maturity and unselfishness such as Stewart are just as important in building championship teams.

The Seattle SuperSonics relied heavily on a Stewart-like player in small forward Paul Silas when they won their NBA title more than 40 years ago. Silas was a second-round pick whose hard-nosed and unrelenting approach complemented the bigger names in the lineup. 

Some see him as a potential 10-year NBA veteran who will be among the league's rebounding leaders each year. 

Sports Illustrated's NBA analyst Jeremy Woo has Stewart listed at No. 25 in his latest mock draft. He's careful in his assessment of the prospect, but in the end he seemingly can't resist him.

"There's nothing overly flashy about Stewart's game, as a throwback, high-energy rebounder who's lauded for his work ethic and leadership," Woo wrote. "Despite not being a mobile, modern center, he remains a likely first-round pick on the strength of that profile -- as grease man who understands exactly what he is."

The SI expert notes that Stewart has some difficulty in finishing plays and getting off clean looks against bigger players, but sees his benefits.

"There's still value in having a workmanlike guy like Stewart on the roster," Woo summed up. "Where he's drafted will depend on positional need, but he might be able to give a team workable minutes right away. As his body type and skill set continues to develop, Stewart is a good bet to keep improving."

He's only 19. Barely 19. Hey 19.

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