Mark Taylor, as good a coach as there is out there, has guided his fair share of superstars over the years.
The biggest names stem from his days manning the sideline at St. Joseph (Metuchen), where he helped develop NBA talents Andrew Bynum and Jay Williams, also a former Duke standout.
But his newest assignment, which is to bring St. Benedict’s Prep back to national prominence, has presented the veteran leader with another baby-faced phenom: freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe.
In fact, he could be one of the most dominant guards the Garden State has seen since Williams graduated as a Falcon in 1999 and moved on to become an icon for the Blue Devils.
“I think Jay was a little quicker than Isaiah, but Isaiah is a lot stronger, especially as a freshman,” said Taylor, who took over for Roshown McLeod as head coach of the Gray Bees. “They’re different players with some things, but are very similar in others.
“They both do great things at critical points of big games. They both have a knack for doing spectacular things when they game is on the line.”
Though just 14 years old, Briscoe has garnered interest from some of the top college programs in the country. In addition to being on Mike Krzyzewski’s radar, the guard has been offered by Arizona, Baylor, Pittsburgh, DePaul, Rutgers, Seton Hall, and many others.
If you want to call Briscoe the next big thing, go ahead. While he still has growing pains to overcome – four more years of high school, to be exact – the players of St. Benedict’s are beginning to see some gradual improvement.
“He’s one of the top kids in the country,” said All-American point guard Tyler Ennis, who registered the game-winning putback in Saturday’s 67-65 thrilling win over Plainfield at the Hoop Group Tip-off Showcase at West Orange High School. “And he’s only going to get better.”
Briscoe poured in 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting in the Gray Bees’ fifth straight win to open the season. Six of those points came in the crucial fourth quarter, during which the Gray Bees erased a slim deficit and rallied to maintain their No. 2 ranking in the current MSG Varsity Garden State poll.
The 6-foot-3 prodigy committed six turnovers, but never wavered from displaying a remarkable poise in front of a sold-out crowd.
More than anything, he stepped up in contest that meant more to the squad, simply because Plainfield made it all the way to the Tournament of Champions final last March only to lose to eventual national champion St. Anthony of Jersey City.
“He made some mistakes early, but this game was different from the first four games,” Taylor said. “This game was more emotional and I thought his turnovers were a little uncharacteristic. But we told him he’s just got to slow down and play his game.”
Briscoe, Ennis and Melvin Johnson, a transfer from Rice High School (N.Y.) who scored a game-high 29 points, take turns bringing the ball up and serving as the floor general. To Briscoe, a natural point guard, sharing the role doesn’t bother him – in fact, he has embraced being a go-to player on offense rather than the facilitator.
“We actually went to him in the fourth quarter,” Taylor said. “He is a great player and he’s only going to get better with more confidence.”
Briscoe is averaging 11.6 points in five games thus far. He netted a career-high 19 against Academy of the New Church (Pa.) in his third varsity game. Points aren’t that important to him, though. Not as much as winning – especially on this night.
“It was big because they were up by seven at the half, and in the locker room we just said we need to get this,” Briscoe said.
Now, St. Benedict’s Prep will face Roselle Catholic on Sunday at the same site with hopes of further making an impression. As for Briscoe, the rookie who doesn’t play like one, it will be another step toward becoming even better.
“In the first game I didn’t feel like a rookie,” he shrugged. “I just played like I would in any AAU game. Guys like Melvin and Tyler made me feel like family and always told me to just play my game.”
Listening to that advice has proved more than enough.
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter