BROOKLYN – Barclays Center was dead.
It was weird. The gym was filled with the best high school prospects in the country for the Jordan Brand Classic, almost every seat look filled and the game was close.
Maybe it was the fact that Ben Simmons, the Australian star sure to become the No. 1 pick next year, didn’t play. Perhaps the fans were tired, having watched several games (both international and local) before the main event. Thinking about the Nicki Minaj show afterward could have played a role, too. Who knows?
Whatever the reason was, the building felt eerily silent.
And then Isaiah Briscoe took over.
Before he became Kentucky’s second-leading scorer in 2015-16, Briscoe was a highly-praised prospect out of New Jersey.
I watched him disinterestedly jog up and down the court against Linden at Kean University on Feb. 28 as a 5'11", 160-pound kid named Otis Livingston (now at George Mason) carried the second-ranked Tigers to knock off Roselle Catholic and steal the Union County title.
Linden beats Roselle Catholic (No. 4 in country) in Union County finals! Big time upset. pic.twitter.com/Ltiz6iDKZq— Thomas Duffy (@TJDhoops) March 1, 2015
Briscoe played most of the game in fear of his own sweat, as if it were some sort of acid. At one point, with his team set to inbound, someone threw him a different pair of shoes. The point guard proceeded to change them on the court.
The crowd booed him.
Linden went on to win 60-56, with the future Wildcat finishing with a pedestrian 21 points (six field goals, nine free throws), three rebounds and two assists. He refused to step up down the stretch, failing to display any sort of killer instinct.
"What the hell is all the buzz about?" I remember thinking. "This kid is a hot dog."
He was, and still is. But what I later learned about Briscoe is that he thrives on competition. It brings out the best in him.
About two months later, I saw the real Isaiah Briscoe.
Back to Brooklyn.
The 6'2" Briscoe, playing for the East team, had been getting stuffed every drive. He could slip and slide to the rim with ease, but his shot kept getting punched. He never stopped coming.
The game was going back and forth as the score climbed into triple digits with about six minutes left. Then something just clicked.
Briscoe turned Brooklyn on its head. The previously subdued Barclays crowd transported to Rucker Park. It was amazing.
"That’s New York basketball. Everywhere you go, every generation you’re playing in, that’s New York basketball. They want to see people go at it, they want to see people compete. I’m no stranger to that. I knew it would get like that."
Each time down the floor, Briscoe isolated. His teammates kept feeding him the ball, and he kept dicing up defenders.
"I liked that. I tried to tell them to just play, just play. And they were like ‘No, you got the show going right now. Keep it going.’"
Every fan in the building stood up when he touched the ball. Every...single...one. And when he scored, it got loud.
Isaiah Briscoe with five points in about five seconds. Barclays is behind him! Definitely getting the most cheers.— Thomas Duffy (@TJDhoops) April 18, 2015
Big bucket from Briscoe! Cold blooded. We've reached the time where defense is real. Barclays is ROCKING!!!!— Thomas Duffy (@TJDhoops) April 18, 2015
This is becoming the Isaiah Briscoe show. He's isolating literally every time down. 19 points, struggled early but putting on a show late.— Thomas Duffy (@TJDhoops) April 18, 2015
"I knew it was gonna be a big crowd here," he said. "I’m an inner city kid…I just want to give people a show, man. That’s what I did today, no questions about it."
Briscoe’s East team actually lost by a bucket, 118-116. But in the eyes of Brooklyn, the real winner was clear.
After the rough start, he finished with 22 points on 6-of-17 shooting to go along with six dimes and six rebounds. He hit a trio of three-pointers on seven attempts, too.
It was a huge night. But to Briscoe, it seemed like just another day at the office.
"I’ve played in smaller gyms that felt like more people. I’m no stranger to a big crowd. I feed off things like that, as you could see. I love it. I love seeing the crowd get into it. I get hyped, they get hyped. That’s what basketball is all about.
"Honestly, every time I play in New York, [fans] do that. It’s my city."
"It’s my city."
Had the Nets not traded every first-round pick for the next 75 years, the city could be Briscoe’s for years to come.
Young studs create a uniquely feverish buzz around a team. Look at Kristaps Porzingis with the Knicks, Karl Towns with the Wolves or Jahlil Okafor with the Sixers. Brooklyn has some nice young talent, for sure—but no franchise players.
Barring some sort of blockbuster large enough to raise the blue-boxed retailer back from the dead, the Nets won’t get Briscoe. If he doesn’t go out after this season, he’ll be a lottery pick in 2017.
Brooklyn doesn’t have control of its own first-rounder until 2019. It will surrender its 2016 and 2018 picks to Boston and if the Nets have a higher pick than the Celtics in 2017, it, too, must go to Boston.
It’s painful enough for Nets fans knowing that they won’t get themselves a Porzingis or Towns or Okafor. But not getting Briscoe is especially heartbreaking.
They’ve seen the kid single-handedly send an electric shock throughout Barclays Center. They’ve felt his love for New York. They’ve heard him speak on trash-talking Carmelo Anthony.
"I have a pretty good relationship with Carmelo," Briscoe said after the JBC. "We text from time to time. He just is a mentor, tells me to stay focused and things like that. [After the game], the first he said was ‘I don’t know how ya’ll lost.’ Then he said ‘It wasn’t good to lose in your city,’ but it was all just joking around."
Even Anthony uses the possessive. It’s Briscoe’s city.
"Not so much advice, it’s more like trash talk," Briscoe, who frequently works out at Anthony’s Terminal 23 gym, said about their relationship. "I’m telling him, ‘We can play 1-on-1 whenever you’re ready.’ I’m such a competitor that I need somebody to kill me. I don’t think at the high school level, anybody can really give me a challenge. I feel like I play the game with so much ease."
Make no mistake, Briscoe loves himself some Briscoe. But that cockiness, that swagger is what makes him an elite player–and the rare breed fit to star in N.Y.
Imagine Briscoe, decked in black and white, going toe-to-toe with Anthony and the Blue and Orange late in the fourth quarter of a close game. It’s a dream for anyone with allegiance to Big Apple hoops.
But it won’t happen. The city won’t be Briscoe’s, at least for the first few years of his career.
And worst of all, Nets fans know exactly what they’re missing out on.