It’s Wong time in the 305.
Amid an injury-riddled season for the Miami Hurricanes, the Piscataway, New Jersey native has emerged as the future of Jim Larranaga’s program.
Isaiah Wong, 20, came into his sophomore season with eager expectations and his confidence at an all-time high. He had started the final 13 games as a freshman, highlighted by a 27 point, 12 rebound outing versus Virginia Tech that truly showcased what makes him special.
Fast forward to the present day, and the 6-foot-3 guard has become a consistent nightmare for opposing teams. Averaging 17.1 points per game on 43.0% shooting, Wong ranks fourth in the ACC in scoring, adding to his career-highs in rebounds (5.0), assists (2.3) and steals (1.1).
On Monday, Wong received third-team All-ACC honors, an accolade to showcase his improvements.
Wong has become a household name at the Watsco Center, and that’s not changing soon.
“The season’s been going well for me,” he told 305 Sports. “For me, I feel like just going game by game, just helping the team as much as possible, just going through the big hump of losing games.”
Miami (8-16, 4-15 ACC) hasn’t performed to the standards expected of it, thanks to their long-list of injuries that transformed a 3-0 start into a third consecutive losing season for UM and the worst record for the school since 1993-94. Larranaga’s group currently runs eight deep: six scholarship players and two walk-ons, making things difficult in different stages of the season, making Wong’s job as the commander more demanding.
“We’re keeping the same energy coming into every game,” he said. “I feel like we still have energy coming into the ACC tournament. So just keeping that energy will be the best of us.”
Headlining the Hurricanes’ injury bug is senior Chris Lykes, who led the team in scoring for the past two seasons. Lykes tweaked his ankle against Stetson on Dec. 4, keeping him out for substantial time. His return was looming until he aggravated his ankle during practice. Larranaga eventually ruled him out for the entire season, putting a lid to potentially his last run with the ‘Canes.
“I was sad,” said Wong, “when I heard Chris wasn’t playing because I knew how good he is and how fast he plays. He’s just another player that can give other players an opportunity to get open shots and he can score at a high level. He’s one of the best players in the ACC, and we really missed on that. With him out, I had to take the big step in. Learning faster and trying to make the best decisions to trying to help our team win more games and get my teammates the ball.”
With Lykes out, Wong earned the keys to running the floor. A new soothing transition for him by far, considering his remarkable leap from 7.7 points per game to over 17, adjusting has been a part of his second year at the collegiate level. He seems to get more comfortable as time goes.
Wong’s standout performance came versus No. 16 Louisville, where his 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting propelled a 78-72 win. That said, he’s racked up 20 double-digit scoring games this season, including against teams like No. 11 Florida State (29), Clemson (28) and NC State (24).
“I’ve learned the most (this season by) more teams doubling, more teams scouting me,” he said. “The reads I used to make are not there anymore, so I feel like I expanded my game with more shot creating and more making difficult shots. Passing the ball, finding more open players. Just going through the scouting report and knowing when they’re going to double-team me. When I come off the pick and roll, I know they’re going to lean more toward my side than other players, so I pass to the big’s and they help me with that.”
Glitz and glamor aside, Wong isn’t delighted by the way this season has gone. The ‘Canes underwent a stretch where they lost five games by less than five points, a run that later activated a six-game losing skid. Those woes follow them into the ACC tournament.
Wong believes Miami could’ve defeated some of those team’s they’ve lost to, but consistent injuries and a tarnished locker room have crushed those attempts.
“As far as the season, just trying to keep the energy during the game,” Wong said on what’s been the most difficult part of the season. “I feel like we can beat these teams, but we only have six guys playing. During the game, it’s just hard when your five stays on the court and the other team brings another five players on the court. The hard part is trying to keep the intensity up for the whole game.”
The lack of players has resulted in Wong, who had 36 consecutive starting nods prior to Senior Night Friday, to play over 30 minutes per game in all but two games this season.
That’s a testimony to his competitive spirit.
“I just try to keep the same energy and try to play my best of my abilities, going into every game and just playing the hardest I can,” he said. “That’s my mindset towards every game. I know I’m going to play 38 minutes, so I just try to make the best of it.”
That grit and grind mentality originates from that New Jersey style of basketball. Wong, a lethal slasher and consistent shot-creator through the likes of his athleticism, has taken the ACC by storm through his general play style.
“What makes Isaiah Wong is the type of style I play,” he said. “I play every game aggressively with that (New Jersey style). Everybody in Jersey, we play a certain way. We all play hard. I see all these ACC players from Jersey and I always like how they play because we’re all making noise. Being from Jersey, I’m one of those players, so playing just like them is playing hard.”
With the season’s end approaching, unless Miami could pull off a remarkable run and win out in the ACC tourney, Wong’s journey as a ‘Cane is far from over. With at least two years of eligibility left in the tank, he’ll look to put himself alongside some of UM’s greats, while improving his NBA Draft stock.
When it’s all said and done, Wong simply hopes his personality and game speaks for itself.
“I want to be remembered as a hardworking kid that is calm, composed and humble,” he said. “I come in to play each game to my best ability and like I said, I work hard and care about the team.”