Power forward from FAB 50 No. 3 La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) named 2019 Mr. Basketball USA by Ballislife.com. Isaiah Stewart is the first ever selection from the independent boarding day school in Indiana and will attend the University of Washington.
There were trends broken and first occurrences when it came to determining the nation’s best high school basketball player for 2018-19. Sure, having tremendous individual talent remains paramount and if history is any indication, this year’s top player will one day soon play in the NBA.
For the first time in five years, the nation’s top individual honor does not come off the roster of the mythical FAB 50 national championship team. This year’s honoree also hails from a program that has emerged as a FAB 50 power over the past five years and for the first time produced the national player of the year.
That player is 6-foot-9 power forward Isaiah Stewart of La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) and today he is honored with the title of 2018-19 Mr. Basketball USA.
La Lumiere came up one game short of its ultimate goal of capturing the FAB 50 national title, losing in the GEICO Nationals championship game to IMG Academy (Brandenton, Fla.), 66-55, to finish No. 3 in the FAB 50 at 30-1. Despite the Lakers coming up one game short of an unbeaten championship season, the loss didn’t deter the 10-man Mr. Basketball USA Tracker panel from rewarding Stewart with a much deserved prestigious individual accolade.
Stewart is first player ever from the emerging FAB 50 national power that operates as a “boarding day school” to earn the title of Mr. Basketball USA. He’s headed to Washington, and is the second Mr. Basketball USA honoree to sign with a Pac-12 program in four years. In 2016, Chino Hills (Calif.) point guard Lonzo Ball signed with UCLA, as did Shabazz Muhammad coming out of Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) in 2012. In 2017, Mr. Basketball USA honoree Michael Porter Jr. of Nathan Hale (Seattle, Wash.) originally committed to Washington, but after Lorenzo Romar was fired and his dad was hired as an assistant at the University of Missouri, Porter changed his commitment.
Washington head coach Mike Hopkins is getting one of the best competitors in high school basketball we’ve evaluated in recent years. The Rochester, N.Y. native drew raves all season long for his competitiveness, toughness and impact on winning from coaches and peers alike. For the season, Stewart averaged 18.1 ppg, 11.3 rpg and over 3 blocks while shooting 60 percent from the field for one of the nation’s top teams. He also imposed his will on many top opponents, wearing them down in the second half or fourth quarter with his relentless inside work on both ends of the floor.
“After playing against La Lumiere twice this year and coaching Isaiah Stewart in the Jordan Brand Classic, I feel that he is the player of the year in high school basketball,” said Grant Rice, Muhammad’s coach at Bishop Gorman whose program enters 2019-20 with eight consecutive NIAA state titles under its belt. “Not only does he put up big numbers each game, but he’s a winner and leader on and off the court. He plays as hard as anyone I’ve coached against over the years.”
The only other candidate to receive strong consideration for this year’s honor was 6-foot-3 point guard Cole Anthony of national power Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.). In the final Mr. Basketball USA Tracker, the North Carolina recruit and son of former NBA guard Greg Anthony was the only other candidate to appear on all 10 ballots. Anthony, who averaged 18.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 10.2 apg for the No. 10 team in the FAB 50, recorded four first-place votes, one second-place vote, two third-place, one fourth-place and two fifth-place votes. Stewart gobbled up the other six first place votes.
Anthony actually made the race compelling to the very end and would have been a credible winner this season and in many others, as well. Even though he battled injuries during Oak Hill’s regular season, he closed strong. The explosive point guard finished with 14 points, on 7-of-11 shooting, five rebounds, seven assists, and two blocks in the McDonald’s All-American Game. He also starred at the Nike Hoop Summit (25 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists) and at the Jordan Brand Classic (25 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists) and was named team MVP at all three events. Panelist Jerry Meyer of 247Sports.com calls Anthony the best point guard prospect he’s seen in the past 15 years covering basketball for a major recruiting network.
Stewart was also impressive on the post-season all-star circuit. He went for 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting and five rebounds at McDonald’s and for 16 points and nine rebounds at the Jordan Brand Classic. It doesn’t always happen, but there was an also a rare head-to-head in-season matchup of the top two candidates and that’s where Stewart likely gained his edge.
La Lumiere and Oak Hill Academy played in the GEICO Nationals semifinals and the game came down to the last play, as a corner 3-pointer by Oak Hill’s Cam Thomas was just off, as the Lakers held on for a 58-57 victory. Stewart finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, including the one that came off the rim on Thomas’ attempt as the horn sounded, as La Lumiere survived an onslaught of close range Oak Hill shot attempts in the game’s closing minutes. Anthony finished with 11 points and eight assists, but missed 12 of 16 shots from the field, as the Warriors made 24-of-67 shots from the field. If just a few more of those Oak Hill shots go down, would Anthony be the recipient? The race was that close.
For now, however, Stewart leaves to Washington as a player who left his indelible mark on La Lumiere’s program. The Lakers’ coaching staff has nothing but praise for Stewart as he begins his next journey from Indiana to the Pacific Northwest.
“We are extremely excited for Isaiah for the hard work he’s put in to get to this stage in his career,” said La Lumiere head coach Pat Holmes. “He wants to be challenged and coached and doesn’t want it sugar coated.”
It’s quite an honor and accomplishment to be named national player of the year, but Holmes and his staff is not exactly shocked by Stewart’s standing and accolades after transferring to La Lumiere following his sophomore season at McQuad Jesuit (Rochester, N.Y.).
“Not really, he always finds a way to impact the game and always plays his butt off,” Holmes said when asked if he was surprised by the announcement of Stewart as Mr. Basketball USA. “He imposes his will the whole game, never backs down, never goes into a game thinking we will lose. That mentality is contagious throughout the team.”