Isaac Excited to Play in Front of Father When Magic Visit Nets

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

NEW YORK – Train up a child in the way he should go. And when he is old, he will not depart from it.–Proverbs 22:6.

Jacob Isaac believed in the word of God so much so that rarely a day went by when he wasn’t reciting passages out of the Bible to his six children. Like father, like son, Jonathan Isaac – a blossoming, second-year forward for the Orlando Magic – often peppers conversations with teammates, coaches and media members with Bible verses taught to him by a father he still considers to be ``that spiritual guy up there for me.’’

While some on the Magic looked to the team’s extended stay in New York City as a means for them to soak in the Big Apple’s nightlife and a chance to savor the many food selections, Isaac instead was singularly excited about the chance to visit with the man he refers to simply as ``Pops.’’

``I always get to see my Pops whenever we go back to New York,’’ Isaac said. ``That definitely means a lot to me, getting to spend time with him and having my family see me play.

``My Pops made the scripture important,’’ Isaac added. `^``Train up a child in the way he should go. And when he is old, he will not depart from it.’ He made that true for me and his ability to instill in me a belief and a faith in Christ. It’s helping me now and it’s a big deal for me. I’ll always appreciate him for that.’’

The younger Isaac will also appreciate the opportunity to play in front of Jacob on Wednesday night when the Magic (20-27) face the Nets (25-23) at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Isaac usually has some sort of combination of family attend home games in Orlando – whether it’s mother, Jackie Allen, or one of his five siblings (older sister Kalilah; older brothers Jacob and Joel; or younger brothers Winston and Jeremiah. But games in New York – where Isaac lived until he was 10 years old before moving to Florida – are usually reserved for Isaac’s father to attend and check up on the progress of his prodigy.

``Half the time when people come to the game, I have no idea where they’re sitting. And even when I try to look for them, I usually can’t find them,’’ Isaac said with a big, toothy smile splashed across his face. ``But I’ll know he’s there, that he’s watching and he’s proud of me.’’

Jacob Isaac will undoubtedly also be proud of the fact that while his 21-year-old son has made it to the NBA, he hasn’t strayed too far from the strict, religious upbringing he was a part of as a child. Isaac is easily the most openly devout player on the Magic, speaking regularly about how his faith has shaped him both as a person and a basketball player.

Playing largely a supporting offensive role on the Magic, Isaac had averaged 7.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.07 blocks in 25 minutes a night. He’s played in 41 games and started 30 of them – big numbers considering that his rookie season was limited to 27 games because of a series of ankle injuries. After a couple of minor blips with his ankles in the preseason and early in the regular season, Isaac switched to ankle braces that helped two-time MVP Stephen Curry overcome his issues with sprains and it’s meant everything to the Magic’s prized second-year forward. Now his focus is on basketball and development instead of his ankle issues.

``It feels great to string together more games than I played the entire last year,’’ said Isaac recently. ``Really, the summer was huge, getting my foot right and I haven’t had many issues. Other than early in the season with a couple of light sprains I haven’t had any issues because I’ve been focusing on it. Our training staff and our management team are doing their best to make sure I’m taken care of and it’s been great. It allows me to just get my mindset ready to play and not have my ankle in the back of my mind. It’s just about the game now.’’

Isaac’s game has continued progress even though it doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet. Playing in a starting five with Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and D.J. Augustin, Isaac is almost always the fifth option in the offense and rarely if ever does he get plays called for him. At this point, it’s up to Isaac to create his own offense off cuts through the paint, rim runs on the break and my crashing the offensive glass. He created plenty of action in Orlando’s win in Atlanta on Monday, contributing eight points, nine rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal.

Magic coach Steve Clifford often compares Isaac to former Magic great Rashard Lewis because of his lengthy body and willingness to sacrifice for the team. In many ways, Clifford said he still looks at Isaac as a rookie because he missed so much time last season. For now, Clifford wants Isaac on the floor because of his defensive skills and his willingness to move the ball and in time he fully believes Isaac will become a player more reliable on the offensive end.

``Jonathan is developing at a really good pace, but it’s just hard for me to find opportunities to find ways to give him opportunities to (isolate) and play one-on-one with the makeup of our team,’’ Clifford said of Isaac, who will enter Wednesday’s game shooting 41 percent from the floor and 27.6 percent from 3-point range. ``People will see it from him eventually, but that’s the part where I have to figure out better (to incorporate Isaac into the offense), too.’’

Isaac knows his offensive game is still a work in progress and that’s why he arrives early and stays after practice almost every day as he works to get up shots. That was the case on Tuesday at Baruch College in New York City, when Isaac playfully participated in shooting games with fellow forwards Aaron Gordon and Jarell Martin after practice. For now, he’s more than content to fill a role as he continues to work to grow his game.

``That’s going to come for me, and I just have to wait my time and wait my turn,’’ Isaac said. ``Right now, I have to find ways to help this team and find ways to help myself be better. That’s learning how to rebound and learn how to defend. Then, when it’s time to start getting those play calls and starting being more of an offensive threat, I’ll have more things under my belt and be able to do a lot of different things.’’

That patient and thoughtful approach was taught to him by mother, Jackie, and father, Jacob, who raised the family of eight in the rugged Bronx section of New York City. The couple split up when Jonathan was 10 years old with Jacob remaining in New York, while Jackie moved the rest of the family to Naples, Fla. In an interview with USA Today years back, Jackie said she moved the family to Florida to escape an ``unsafe living environment.’’

Jonathan said he didn’t get serious about basketball until he moved to Florida. Back in New York, he said he played the sport only sparingly on the city’s famed asphalt courts as a means of competing with his brothers. Once a 6-foot-3 sophomore who couldn’t even dunk the ball, Isaac’s love and commitment to the game didn’t come until he hit a growth spurt that sent him soaring higher than 6-foot-10. Doctors have told Isaac and his family that his growth plates are still ``wide open’’ and that he could potentially grow to be 7-1 ½ -- something that should help a late-bloomer to the sport continue to blossom on the court.

``When I lived in New York, basketball wasn’t a big thing for me; it was just something I did with my brothers for fun,’’ he said. ``But once I got to Florida, that’s when it started to be more serious, playing on teams and stuff.’’

The distance between New York and Florida did little to affect the relationship between father and son. The two are still extremely close and talk often. Jonathan’s memories of his early childhood include a father who was extremely disciplined and deeply religious – facets he has incorporated into his life now.

``You spare the rod, you spoil the child,’’ Isaac said with a playful chuckle, reciting the passage as if he has heard it hundreds of times from his father. ``He definitely was the strict type.’’

On Wednesday, when the Magic face the Nets, Isaac will likely scan the crowd looking for his 6-foot-3 father. Even if he doesn’t find him in the Barclays Center crowd, he’ll know that he’s there and that he can trust the guidance provided to him.

``He’s super spiritual, loves God and goes to church all the time,’’ Isaac said recently of his father. ``He’s like that spiritual guy up there for me and when I’m struggling spiritually or need someone I need to talk to, I can talk to him.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.