Meet the Wildcats: Briscoe brings winning mentality to Kentucky

A new season brings new players and new stories to tell. Over the next several weeks, CoachCal.com will be profiling Kentucky’s newcomers in its annual and exclusive “Meet the Wildcats” series. Each story will be accompanied with video. Next up is confident and talented combo guard Isaiah Briscoe.

O
ne of Isaiah Briscoe’s favorite things to do on the basketball court is talk.

He doesn’t only typically win basketball games, he also wins the talking game, where he says he’s never met someone who talks a better game than him – but does concede that Tyler Ulis talks a “great” game as well.

For Briscoe, talking a big game on the court gives him an advantage over his competition. It can make some timid, it can take some out of their own game, and in both instances, it enhances Briscoe’s.

“I think it makes the game more interesting,” Briscoe said in an exclusive interview with CoachCal.com. “It brings the best matchups out of the opposing defenders. If you’re trying to go and kill him, he’s going to try to go kill you. That’s how you get good basketball, and that’s how you get better.”

Bio Blast

Position: Guard
Date of birth: April 13, 1996
Parents: Henrietta Hemingway and George Briscoe
Hometown: Newark, N.J.
High school: Roselle Catholic High School
Nickname: Boogie
Twitter: @ZayBriscoe
Instagram: @zaaay_
Favorite TV show: Regular Show
Favorite food: Chicken (with macaroni and cheese)
Favorite superhero: Wolverine
Favorite player: Nick Young
Favorite sport/hobby outside of basketball: Soccer
Favorite movie: Above the Rim
Favorite artist: The Weeknd

And getting better is something Briscoe is all about. It’s why he came to Kentucky. While he loves to talk, he also loves to compete.

“It was just a matter of fact of what kind of college level do you want to be put on?” Briscoe said of what went into making his college decision. “What stage do you want to be put on? I want to be put on the biggest stage and that’s why I came to Kentucky.”

It’s also the reason he wasn’t bothered by the fact that he, the No. 1 point guard prospect in the country by many recruiting services, chose a school that already had a highly regarded and established point guard in Ulis.

“One, positions don’t really matter anymore. Me and Tyler, we can play together,” Briscoe said. “And two, I love to compete. When you come to Kentucky you’re going to play with other McDonald’s All-Americans every day in practice, and you have to compete. That’s what I want to do.”

His confidence on the court is one of the things that separates him from other players. Former Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein would often say he could tell if the opposing team could compete or didn’t have a shot within the first five minutes of the game.

A confident player, Isaiah Briscoe isn't afraid to admit he loves talking on the court, saying it makes the game more interesting.

A confident player, Isaiah Briscoe isn’t afraid to admit he loves talking on the court, saying it makes the game more interesting.

Similarly, Briscoe says he can tell his opponent’s confidence level quickly with a few easy signs, such as the opponent not going to get the ball or look him in the eyes.

“(Confidence is) very important,” Briscoe said. “I think that’s half the battle, honestly. Mentally, are you there? Do you think you’re ready, mentally? And if you’re second-guessing yourself then there’s really no hope for you because now you start thinking about a whole bunch of other stuff. I don’t think about the other stuff.”

While some players think they can hit the big shot, lead their team in the postseason or do what it takes to get to the next level, Briscoe knows he can.

“When I go out there I know the certain things I can do,” he said. “It’s just a matter of, Are you going to do it? For sure I’m going to do it.”

That doesn’t mean he’s going to disrupt the offense, hog the ball or take unnecessary shots.

“I am more unselfish than people think,” Briscoe said. “I love passing. I love seeing other people score.”

A leader both vocally and by example, Briscoe plans on leading this season despite his freshman standing. He’s worked hard over the summer alongside Ulis to transform his body and get ready for the grind of the college basketball season.

“Even after (pickup games) we would stay and play one-on-one, talking to each other and getting each other better,” Briscoe said.

“Isaiah is a multidimensional guard who can play both the one and the two. He’s a big, strong guard with great ball skills that are beyond the norm. He can score the ball at will, but he’s an unselfish player who makes plays for his teammates. That’s why guys love playing with him and why he’s such a great teammate.” – Coach Cal
Following a 38-1 season, the first in college basketball history, Kentucky head coach John Calipari asked his team, “Why not do something special again this year?” To which Briscoe simply replied, “Why not?”

It may be a bit weird to describe the outspoken freshman man who loves to talk a big game in just one word, but if you had to do it, the word would be winner. And for Briscoe, his freshman season is all about doing the one thing he’s done throughout his career, win.

“I would like to win a national championship,” Briscoe said. “There’s no doubt about it. Individual goals will come as we achieve the team goals.”

The 6-foot-3 combo guard out of Newark, N.J., has been a winner throughout his career. As a freshman and sophomore he helped lead St. Benedict’s to a pair of state championships. Then after transferring to Roselle Catholic for his final two years of high school, he did the same thing there.

He capped that off by playing in the McDonald’s All-American Game, Nike Hoop Summit and Jordan Brand Classic, averaging 14.0 points, 6.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds in the three high school showcases.

At the Jordan Brand Classic, played in nearby Brooklyn, N.Y., Briscoe finished with 22 points, six assists and six rebounds in just 23 minutes, and had a bit of a home court advantage on his side with fans cheering his every move, including teammate Skal Labissiere, who volunteered to sit at the end of the game so Briscoe could try to win it.

Over the summer, he became the first high school athlete to write for The Players’ Tribune, a website founded by former New York Yankees star Derek Jeter that “aims to provide unique insight into the daily sports conversation and publishes first-person stories directly from athletes.”

He also tried out and was named to the USA Men’s U19 World Championship Team. Earlier in his career he helped lead USA to a gold medal at the 2014 FIBA America’s U18 Championship, averaging 8.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.

Briscoe and Tyler Ulis have quickly formed a friendship and often stay after workouts to play one-on-one and push each other.

Briscoe and Tyler Ulis have quickly formed a friendship and often stay after workouts to play one-on-one and push each other.

Unfortunately, Briscoe suffered a head injury in a practice with USA Basketball and was forced to withdraw from the team.

On the positive side, it did allow him an opportunity to come to Kentucky earlier than expected and begin forging relationships on the team during pickup games, in which he says there’s been plenty of trash talking going on in the Joe Craft Center. Ask his teammates and they’ll tell you he’s been the winner and leader in that part of the game as well.

Ultimately, Briscoe wants to be mentioned alongside the other great guards who have played for head coach John Calipari. He also wants to achieve similar success to what Coach Cal’s teams have done in the past. Kentucky has made it to the Final Four in four of the past five years and has produced three of the past six No. 1 draft picks.

“When I go out there I know the certain things I can do. It’s just a matter of, Are you going to do it? For sure I’m going to do it.” – Isaiah Briscoe
To do that, he knows he will have to bring it every time he steps on the court.

“The switch flips when I’m getting dressed,” Briscoe said. “When I’m getting dressed I’m already thinking about what’s about to go down. I’m like that for everything. Anything competitive, the switch is flipping.”

Growing up, Briscoe felt like he always had to prove himself. In middle school he was overlooked for being “out of shape” and “short,” but says that was fine and that he always walks with a chip on his shoulder.

Now, Briscoe continues to play with that chip on one shoulder, and a whole lot of confidence on the other. Together, it’s proven to be an impressive combination.

“I think my confidence just takes me over the top with everybody,” he said. “I just always think that I have the upper hand whenever I step out onto the court.”