Now that he’s returned to his natural position at the four, along with a year of college ball experience at his disposal, Hicks appears set to provide significant contributions for a UNC squad expected to be ranked top-10 nationally in the preseason polls.
“I think playing last year has really helped him playing inside, which is really what he is,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “I think we helped him as a basketball player last year, but I think he does feel much more comfortable inside.”
That comfort level was on display in both UNC’s 84-83 loss to the Providence Storm on Friday and its 109-52 victory over the Bahamas All-Stars on Saturday.
Hicks scored 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first game and followed that performance up with 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting 24 hours later. The Oxford, N.C. native pulled down five and seven rebounds, respectively, and was credited with three offensive rebounds in each contest.
“Just being back at my natural position, I feel more comfortable,” Hicks said.
What stands out about Hicks is his combination of athleticism and size. Observers witnessed the former during his freshman season in small doses on the perimeter, but his added bulk – Hicks confirmed he had gained weight this offseason but was unable to provide an exact number – allows him to pass the look test as an ACC-caliber post player.
Hicks said that while the block is where his skills predominantly reside, his experiment at the wing has proven to be beneficial.
“Because I played the three last year, I had to move out of the four and five work and focus on ball-handling, dribbling, shooting, pull-ups and all of that, so that helped me out playing on the perimeter,” Hicks said.
Hicks overpowered some defenders in the post while jumping over others, but he also showed touch on a 15-foot baseline jumper and a decent handle at the top of the key in driving around a defender to pick up a foul in the paint.
While his quickness may not quite be at James Michael McAdoo’s level, his willingness to establish position on the block and be physical underneath allowed him to be a consistent option during his 33 minutes of play over the weekend.
Hicks scored nine straight points in the second quarter on Saturday, which included a strong move to the basket and a corresponding free throw conversion.
“I think Isaiah has improved so much,” junior guard Marcus Paige said. “He just looks more comfortable out here. Even [on Friday], he was one of the guys that actually played decent, so I think he’s ready to make a big jump and we need him to.”
Hicks, however, is not placing too much stock in his Bahamas play. When asked if he could use these performances as a springboard for the 2014-15 season, Hicks shook his head and smiled.
“Honestly, I don’t look at it like that,” Hicks said. “I just come out here and try to do what Coach says. Mostly points are just off running, which is what Coach emphasizes, so I’m just trying to do everything he says to help the team out.”
If this weekend’s sampling is any indication, Hicks may potentially alleviate any lingering post depth concerns following McAdoo’s early exit to the professional ranks.