PITTSBURGH — On the first night of the PBC Pro-Am basketball tournament this summer, I watched a skinny, young-looking forward take Pitt senior Jamel Artis to the hoop and finish with an emphatic dunk.
“Who the hell is that?” I asked while scrambling through my notes to try to come up with the player responsible.
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I discovered the player in question was Duquesne freshman Isiaha Mike. While he was wearing something like No. 67 in summer league, Mike will wear No. 45 in red and blue this season, and Dukes fans should get used to looking for the 6-foot-8 forward from Scarborough, Ontario.
After I saw him briefly, I started to tell some other people about him. The funny thing is, they seemed to already know. Mike was only rated by one recruiting service, and ESPN gave him just two stars. But mention his name around Pittsburgh basketball circles, and those that have seen him play understand the kind of talent Jim Ferry pulled in. Ferry seems to recognize it, too.
“He’s going to be a really, really good player,” Ferry told me in his office last month.
Ferry expects Mike to be a big contributor at the four spot for the Dukes, even as a freshman. It’s a big load to put on a young player’s shoulders, but with the transfer of center L.G. Gill (Maryland), Duquesne is a bit short on frontcourt experience. So Mike will certainly get the chance to show what he’s got.
“My role is probably going to be putting the ball in the basket a lot,” Mike said, saying he can do some different things at the four spot because of his athleticism, a trait that the team as a whole is looking to utilize as they move to more of a fast-pace offense.
“We’re going to be aggressive,” he said. “We’re really fast, really athletic. I think defensively we’re going to be really good and offensively, we’re all runners. We love to get out in the open floor. We like to get out in transition as much as we can.”
That style is a prefect fit for the agile Mike. He’s fitting in well with the team off the court as well, something that he didn’t necessarily expect coming in as a freshman.
“Our team is really close. I don’t think you see that a lot,” he said. “You usually see cliques within the team, but we’ve all kind of gelled pretty well. … We’re all going to get a lot of minutes because of the way we play. Work hard for a couple of minutes, and then because we’re so deep, get out, freshen up and then get back in.”
The reason for the close bond could be due to the sheer volume of newcomers — the Dukes have four freshmen and two transfers — or it could be due to Ferry’s unique practice schedule that has them in the gym at 7 a.m. some days. That’s followed up by a second session of the day in the afternoon that takes place solely in the weight room, something that’s been a bit of a change from high school for Mike and the other young players.
“In the summer, it was kind of hard to adjust. I wasn’t used to doing the weight training, classes, practice and all of that. In high school, we just practiced,” he said, while adding that on the court, he expects defense to be the biggest change. “Defensively, guarding, I might have to play some center. There’s some big guys. Playing against heavier, bigger guys is something I’m not accustomed to, but you live and you learn, right?”
That process started back in summer ball, but it wasn’t the confrontation with Artis or matching up with any of the other power-five or pro player there that stood out to Mike. It was they play of his teammates.
“It was eye-opening to see the competition level in Pittsburgh and to see my teammates playing against other people,” he said. “We scrimmage all the time, but to see what they do to other defenders … it’s exciting.”