By John Denton
July 1, 2017
ORLANDO – Just as many of his dreams were becoming reality right before his eyes on Saturday, Orlando Magic rookie Jonathan Isaac felt the air rush out of his lungs and he had to push aside his pride and ask out of his first professional basketball game three minutes in.
A dubious start, for sure, but one that was totally understandable considering all the milestones that hit on this day for the 19-year-old Isaac.
Some 45 minutes prior to tipoff of first-day action of the Mountain Dew Orlando Pro Summer League Isaac experienced the emotional high of signing his first pro contract as his mother, Jackie Allen, looked on. Then, after Isaac scored his first pro points – calmly drilling a straight-on 3-pointer from 24 feet – the magnitude of the moment overcame him and he was forced to motion to the bench as he struggled to regain his breath.
“That was just that anxiousness,’’ Isaac said with a chuckle following the Magic’s 85-74 loss to Indiana in summer-league play. “Once I hit my first shot, (the air) just kind of left me all at once and I couldn’t breathe. I was just like, `Let me get to my second wind and calm down.’’
Isaac, the No. 6 pick in last week’s NBA Draft, did just that after getting a quick breather, playing better in a variety of ways. He stuffed the stat sheet by scoring seven points, grabbing eight rebounds (six off the offensive glass) and blocking two shots as Orlando rallied from 20 points back to tie the game midway through the fourth quarter before fading late.
Isaac didn’t shoot especially well (two of 10), but three of those misses came on tip-in attempts that spoke volumes about his activity on the offensive glass. His play was strong enough to impress Magic coach Chad Forcier, who thought the teen talent bounced back nicely from his early bout with nerves.
“He seemed to have a level of poise that no one expected he would have. I’m sure he had nerves flowing, but it didn’t really show,’’ Forcier said. “I thought he showed a comfort level. I’m sure his heart was racing a million miles an hour and he didn’t have breath in his lungs, but it didn’t look like that way. The game was moving fast and he needed to get out of the game so I needed to get him a sub a little earlier than I planned on, but he was impressive.’’
Not long after getting back into the game in the first quarter, Isaac made his presence felt with his long-armed defense at the rim. Isaac had no fear in challenging 6-foot-9, 255-pound Indiana center Jarnell Stokes and swatted his shot away. Later in the second half, as the Magic were in the process of wiping out the 20-point deficit, the 6-foot-10-½ Isaac easily erased a shot attempt by Indy guard Jordan Long.
“Like I said, when you think Jonathan’s not there, he’s there,’’ said fellow Magic rookie Wesley Iwundu, whose short jumper with 6:20 to play knotted the game at 69 – quite an accomplishment for Orlando considering that it once trailed 44-24 in the second quarter.
“Jonathan’s everywhere on the court, he can affect the game in so many ways and he’s a versatile guy,’’ Iwundu continued. “For this to be his first NBA game, I thought he did great.’’
Isaac showed off his scrappiness and vast potential early in the third quarter when he outfought two defenders for a rebound and he shoveled the ball to center Stephen Zimmerman (nine points, three rebounds and two assists) for a bucket.
Later, Forcier drew up a nifty after-timeout play where Isaac ran off a screen and caught a lob high above the rim for what looked like it was going to be a thunderous dunk. However, the rail-thin 210-pounder was smashed in the chest by Indiana center Augusto Cesar Lima and knocked hard to the floor. Isaac stayed down for a brief period before being chided by teammate Kalin Lucas (10 points and four assists).
“I didn’t even see (Lima). His shoulder hit me square in my chest and knocked all the wind out of me,’’ Isaac recalled. “I said, `I’m out of breath,’ and Kalin was telling me to get up.’’
Isaac said Saturday’s debut rammed home something he already knew as a player coming into the NBA following just one season in college at Florida State University: He must work this offseason to add strength and bulk to his body.
“Once I figured out how physical the game was and how it was going to be, I translated that,’’ Isaac said. “Just how physical it is (is surprising). A lot of times, you’re getting hit and grabbed and there are no calls, so you’ve just got to fight through it.’’
Someday, Isaac said, he’ll look back on this first professional game of his career and laugh about the fact that he had to ask out three minutes in. Then again, considering the whirlwind of events that came all at once with signing his first pro contract, playing his first pro game and hitting his first pro 3-pointer, it’s somewhat understandable that Isaac needed a few minutes to catch his breath.
“I signed my contract 20 minutes before game started and I was still thinking about that while trying to focus on the game,’’ he said. “That (made it) hard to put everything into perspective. It was a lot and all the emotions were there with everybody being there and being excited for you. You’re excited and anxious and then five minutes later you have to step out there and play a game.
“It’s everything (he dreamed of) and more,’’ Isaac added. “There are so many things going on right now. People in the background and your family are trying to get adjusted, finding a new place and getting accustomed to Orlando. It’s a lot and kind of hard to focus on a game right now.’’
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