There was one thing Maine head coach Bob Walsh realized quickly about freshman Issac Vann.
“He’s a natural athlete,” Walsh said. “He’s just a natural on the basketball court.”
Even after missing time with a right ankle injury since November, the 6’6” freshman came back on Jan. 15 against Albany and scored a team-high 19 points to help lift the Black Bears to a win.
“For seven weeks he didn’t do anything with the basketball, except for the day before the game, he practiced for an hour and a half the day before the game and that was it,” Walsh said. “You just put him out on the basketball floor with a ball in his hands and its like he hadn’t missed any time at all. For someone to be able to do that in a game like that, against a team like that, after having not done anything for seven weeks is pretty special.”
Walsh and the Maine staff thought they had lost the chance to get Vann during the summer, when many MAAC schools closed in on the wing between graduating high school and his prep year at Coastal Academy. His assistants kept in contact throughout the fall with Vann and when they presented Walsh with the chance they could get Vann from his prep school in New Jersey, they decided to make a push to get him.
“What sold me was basically how they’re rebuilding it,” Vann said. “I knew coming in I’d have an immediate impact.”
As a true freshman his immediate impact began with a 10 point debut in his first start at UConn and in his third game he scored a season-high 28 points against Wagner, while showcasing a trademark that surprised Walsh and his staff.
“He’s so efficient and I’m not sure we thought he could be as efficient as he is,” Walsh said. “He’s a really efficient player and he’s really well rounded. I don’t think we can say we were prepared for how productive and how efficient he was going to be right away.”
The Bridgeport, Ct. native said he learned and continued to build on becoming an efficient player in high school and on his AAU team. In his return from injury against Albany, he scored 19 points on nine shots from the field. So far, through nine games this season, he is making 48.1% of his shots from the field to go with 77.4% of his free throws.
“I always didn’t take a lot of shots, I try to take the best shots possible,” Vann said. “I probably learned that in high school the most; try to take the best shots that help my team to win the game. I’d rather take eight shots and be seven for eight than take 15 shots and be eight for 15, so just try to take the best shots possible.”
Vann ranks second on the team in scoring (14.4 ppg), behind sophomore and fellow Coastal Academy alum Kevin Little (14.8). He ranks second on the team in rebounding (6.2 rpg) behind classmate Devine Eke (6.9). His 19 point, 11 rebound, six assist performance against Binghamton helped him earn America East Rookie of the Week on Monday.
Thanks to the infusion of youth, the Black Bears are off to their best start in the America East since 2011, and with a healthy Vann down the stretch they will look to continue to build on their strong first half to conference play.
“He’s got such a calm demeanor about him,” Walsh said. “He carries himself like a regular freshman who’s just happy to be around and he appreciates everything that he gets. There’s no air of entitlement to him at all, you would have no idea that he’s as talented, as productive as he is.”
Vann wants to help Walsh get to their stated goal: to turn the number of NCAA tournament appearances for the Black Bears from zero to one.
“He always tells us to do everything we do at a championship level,” Vann said. “So everything I do I try to do it as hard as I can and just separate myself, so I can lead the team and do whatever it takes to be a leader on the team.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.