Isaiah Stewart: Best UW Freshman Hoopster Ever?

Dan Raley

Isaiah Stewart initially was a headline: Top-5 recruit picks Huskies. He sounded good enough.

He surely had to be talented but people still wondered what kind of freshman player would he be once in Seattle.

Quiet like Markelle Fultz? Cocky like Isaiah Thomas? An acrobatic sideshow like Nate Robinson?

Would Stewart show himself physically and emotionally ready to make an immediate difference for Washington? 

Through a 19-game sampling, the chiseled 6-foot-9, 245-pound Stewart has answered all of these questions affirmatively. He's been everything as advertised yet unique in many more ways. 

He has a basketball skill set further advanced than anyone anticipated. Great feet. Big hands. Lots of desire.

Stewart's a great teammate, too. The native New Yorker doesn't require star treatment like others in his position might. He's noticeably humble and respectful of his UW coaches, fellow players and even the fans.

Just 18 years old, Stewart plays much older. He knows who he is and what he wants.

"He's a man-child," said Steve Hawes, former UW standout center and NBA player, shown in the video. "The kid's incredibly developed and skilled."

With Utah and Colorado next up for him and his 12-7 team, Stewart is on pace to become the Huskies' best freshman basketball player ever. 

"I just love his attitude," said Bill Raftery, CBS-TV broadcaster and former Seton Hall coach. "I don't know him personally, but I can tell he loves what he's doing. His work habits are incredible." 

Fultz scored more as a UW freshman -- 23.2 points per game to Stewart's 18.3 -- but the first-year guard wouldn't take a leadership role and couldn't rescue the Huskies from a horrible 9-22 season in 2016-17.

Robinson drew plenty of attention, too, but he was admired for playing college football and basketball at the same time. Robinson led his basketball team in scoring with 13 points per game, but those Huskies finished 10-17 in 2002-03.

That's not to say UW football coach Jimmy Lake wouldn't offer a pair of shoulder pads and a helmet to the sculpted Stewart. 

Guard Dejounte Murray scored 16.1 points per game, but his UW team labored through a 19-15 record during the 2017-18 season.

The late Christian Welp got off to a nice start as a 7-foot freshman center, averaging 10.6 points and 6.2 rebounds in 1983-84 for a 24-7 NCAA tournament team, but he took a definitive backseat to Detlef Schrempf.

Only Thomas comes close to doing what Stewart is accomplishing as a UW freshman. He averaged 15.5 points, helped the Huskies finish 26-9 and earn a NCAA tournament berth, and he was selected 2009 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. 

Fultz, who plays for the Orlando Magic, left the Huskies after one season to become the NBA's No. 1 overall draft pick. Thomas, now with the Washington Wizards, was selected 60th overall and taken with the final pick of the 2011 draft. 

Stewart actually is overshadowed by the UW's Jaden McDaniels in most of the mock drafts so far, ranking anywhere from 18th to 26th, while his less-polished teammate shows up in the top 10 of most lists, going as high as fifth in two of them.

 The rap on Stewart is his supposed limited shooting range. He's 1-for-9 from beyond the 3-point line. Yet he averages 9 rebounds per game, shoots 57.8 percent from the floor and blocks more than two shots per game. He wants to be great at everything.

"I just love the way he plays," Nate Robinson said. "There's no quit in him. Whenever you've got a person who plays with that Husky pride and dog in you, it's hard to compare."

Expected to be one-and-done as a collegian, Stewart is working hard to improve his defensive skills. He has a tendency to go for the ball fake, nothing that can't be rectified. 

He's far from a finished product but he's willing to put in the work to make the NBA want him more. 

"He's barely scratched the surface in making the jump from high school to college," Hawes said. "He's arrived pretty well and it'll be exciting to see what's coming up for him. He's got a huge upside."

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