AP NEWS

Hard work and dedication

March 23, 2019

La PORTE — He could’ve gone back home to New York and enjoyed a nice summer away with friends and family after eighth-seeded La Lumiere was bounced in the first round of the GEICO Nationals last season by Findlay Prep, but Lakers star center Isaiah Stewart doesn’t roll that way.

The defeat, combined with La Lu’s four-loss campaign and Stewart’s name ranging anywhere from the low teens to 56th on recruiting boards, ate away at Stewart. He knew he had to make some changes in his own game and regime to produce the best version of himself.

“It’s just been the work,” Stewart said on the transformation in his body and game. “Workouts and getting up early every morning. Not even going home this past summer was a big thing. I stayed here this past summer and got up in the morning to lift weights with Gage (LeClair), our strength trainer. After that, I would work out with Coach (Brian) Tonino and that was like every single day consistently. They’d give me a day to get my body right and get some rest. I go hard every single day and I was eating good, eating three meals a day.”

Stewart’s results speak for themselves. He committed to the University of Washington back in February after rising to as high as fourth on ESPN Top 100 list and sixth on 247 Sports’ big board of 2019 prospects. To add to his stellar season, Stewart was named the Naismith Boys High School Player of the Year this month for a season in which he’s averaged 18.1 points and 11.3 rebounds per contest.

“I could’ve easily went back home and chilled with some friends, and went to some summer parties and do all that fun stuff,” Stewart said, “but at some point, you’re gonna have to realize that this is a job and I definitely enjoy it. I have fun with it. To me, this is my job. Going to school, taking care of things in the classroom, then come to gym to put the work in.”

Oh, and the Lakers are undefeated at 28-0 and enter the national tournament as the No. 1 seed a year later, facing No. 8 Bishop Gorman on April 4.

“I see a lot of hard work paying off,” Stewart said on Thursday at practice. “The big thing for us is to continue to play how we’ve been playing and keep that same focus.”

Stewart pointed to a countdown clock located in the bleachers underneath one of the baskets at La Lumiere’s gym that counts down to tip-off for the Lakers in New York.

“Our main goal all season long is to win a national championship,” he said. “That’s all we want to do.”

Nobody’s happier for Stewart’s successes outside of his friends and family than Lakers coach Pat Holmes, who has seen Stewart grow tremendously over the last couple of seasons.

“He’s always adding pieces to his game,” Holmes said. “Before he came here, we kinda talked about the evolution of the game in college basketball and the NBA where you have to able to make jump shots on a consistent basis. That’s something that he really takes pride in. He’s got a coach (Scott Fitch) back home who works for USA Basketball that tweaks a couple of things with Isaiah’s form and to his credit, he came in here and shot 1,000 shots a day for multiple weeks during summer.”

Holmes noted there are a few things Stewart can always focus on, including his ability to score from the blocks, but there’s one thing he’ll never lack — the fire to compete.

“Isaiah’s biggest strength is that he’s a competitor,” Holmes said. “He always competes. He doesn’t take a possession off. He doesn’t take a play off, which is sometimes to his detriment because his body takes a beating, but he goes hard every single time.”

Stewart is proud of his rise and accomplishments during his two seasons in the outskirts of La Porte, but there’s one big thing that’s missing on his resume that he wants to add in two weeks.

“That honor was definitely great,” Stewart said on winning national player of the year. “I’m definitely appreciative of getting that. I’m definitely blessed. I gotta thank the man upstairs because I couldn’t do it without Him. For me, what I really want is a ring. Awards are great. I really am thankful for them, but all I really want is a GEICO National Championship.”

Reach Michael Whitlow at mwhitlow@thenewsdispatch.com or (219) 214-4169. Follow him on Twitter @couldbelikemike.