Isaiah Todd is the No. 7 ranked player in ESPN’s national rankings for the class of 2020. At 6-foot-10, he can’t hide. And when he walks into the Providence Day gym Friday night to play Butler High, there are already several groups of teens and adults waiting for him.
Some unroll programs, photos and blank sheets of paper and ask for his autograph. Others pull out iPhones and ask for a picture, putting their arm around a player most expect to one day play at a major university.
Todd has seen it all before.
“Pretty much,” Todd says, “I just try to stay level-headed. It’s part of the game. That just lets me know that I’m on the right track and I’m getting prepared for the future.”
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Todd’s future appears set in stone — probably one year of college and then an NBA decision. He already has offers from schools such as North Carolina and Kansas. He has serious interest from schools such as Kentucky and Duke.
Todd is the feature player at the Crown Town Classic tournament, which is bringing a bevy of top high school teams and talent to Charlotte. Todd is a rare 6-10 athlete blessed with guard skills. He starts out the Butler game making two NBA-range 3-pointers that fly high, with perfect rotation, and pop through the rim at Providence Day with a softness that makes the net pop into the air.
“He’s skilled for his size and playing with more energy and more purpose than ever before,” said ESPN analyst Paul Biancardi. “That enhances his already unbelievable athletic ability. The skill level has always been there, but he’s learning more about the game and how to play the game.”
Biancardi is one of several national media types to attend Friday’s game. A collection of TV cameras film Raleigh Trinity’s introduction.
A year ago, Todd won a state championship for legendary coach Ty White at John Marshall High School in Richmond, Va. But Todd and his family moved to North Carolina in the off-season. Part of the reason Todd ended up at relatively little-known Raleigh Trinity was because of a relationship between Todd and Raleigh Trinity coach Bryan Burrell, who coached him at two Virginia all-star camps.
“We had a relationship, and I knew the family was moving to Raleigh,” Burrell said, “so we kind of put two-and-two together.”
Burrell said getting the call that a player like Todd was coming to his school was like Christmas coming early.
“It was an awesome opportunity,” said Burrell, 30. “I enjoy coaching him and it’s great to watch him progress. But the thing people don’t know is that, yes, he’s a great basketball player, but he’s a much better person.”
Said Todd: “It was just a better situation and also moving onto the next part of becoming the player I’m going to become. It’s just about becoming a leader and to take this small school and do big things.”
Todd is patient with all of the people that want some of his time Friday. He has an easy smile.
He also has an alter ego. He said when fans start cheering against him, particularly with one chant, he turns into “Ziggy.”
“I hate those ‘Overrated’ chants,” Todd said with a wry grin. “I don’t like that.”
When Ziggy comes out, Todd seeks out dunks in a similar manner to how Zion Williamson did at Spartanburg Day last season. YouTube and social media is littered with his highlight clips.
“My mom really likes when I dunk,” he said. “And you can hear her on the sidelines, and she’s like ‘Go dunk on them! Go dunk on them!’”
Unfortunately Friday, Todd got into early foul trouble and wasn’t able to play his normal aggressive game. Butler beat Raleigh Trinity 73-59. There wasn’t any Ziggy, but there were flashes — some no-look passes, a fadeaway jump shot that looks too polished for a high school junior, the ball-handling.
He showed you enough to know that he’s elite even on a night when he didn’t fill up the stat sheet like normal: 14 points, eight rebounds, five assists.
“Well,” he said, “when you look at numbers ... of course they will be there if you play hard. But I try to focus on doing whatever I can to help my team win. If that’s 10 assists and dragging two people out of the way so (a teammate) can make a layup, that’s stuff that’s uncharted. I get double-teamed a lot, but if I take two guys out to the corner, now my guys are playing 4-on-3.”
Note: Todd and Raleigh Trinity play Northside Christian at 1:45 p.m. Saturday at Providence Day.