by Russell Cooks
Isaac Kellum missed the first 12 games of the 2015-16 basketball season while waiting for his transfer from Fayette County High School to McIntosh to be cleared by the Georgia High School Sports Association. He was cleared to play by the GHSA on January 5, and he scored 12 points and grabbed 2 rebounds and blocked 2 shots his first night back on court. Isaac walked on the court at McIntosh like a man on mission. Playing like he has a chip on his shoulder, he fit right in because the entire Chief team is playing with a sense of urgency. They are playing like they have some unfinished business to take care of. They are on a mission to win the AAAAA State Basketball Championship, and Isaac Kellum could be the missing link.
Waiting to play was agonizing, says Isaac, “The only word that comes to mind is furious. I had built a relationship with the coaches and the team over the summer and fall league just to be told weeks before the first game that I wouldn’t be allowed to play. The whole process was disheartening. Watching the team playing and winning without me was almost unbearable. I missed 12 games, and that is a lot games during my senior year. Now, I am just trying to make up for lost time.”
He’s made a quick impression on his new team. Coach Jason Eisele calls him a “very talented, energetic, and charismatic young man.”
“His addition has been huge. He gives me so many options as a coach both offensively and defensively,” says Eisele. “He can play and guard virtually every spot on the court. He is extremely versatile and adds to our depth.”
Eisele adds, “His contributions began well before his game debut with us. He has been a part of the team since he registered for classes at McIntosh and began working out with the team. He picked up on our system this summer and didn’t miss a beat once he was cleared to play.”
Isaac Kellum is not a championship chaser. He is a champion in the truest sense of the word with a winner’s pedigree.
Isaac’s family knew he could be special early on. His father, Charles, remembers, “He started playing organized sports at five-years-old and by the time he was seven I knew he was talented. First baseball and then football. He played quarterback for some championship teams from 6-12 years old and could run an offense and make plays at an early age. When he began playing basketball at seven-years-old, I had coaches approaching me about him playing AAU when they saw him out-jumping the older, taller kids, and he’s been at it since then. He had this natural jumping ability as an seven-year-old and would jump center although he was not the tallest kid on the team. He could also score, and he was natural at putting the ball in the basket at a very early age.”
Charles’s assessment of his son is spot on because Isaac has been a part of championship teams in both football and basketball since he was nine-years-old. His first title came with the 9U football team at Riverdale with Eric Swinney, a top running back at Sandy Creek who just finished his first year at Ole Miss.
He also won a 10U state basketball championship on a rec team with McIntosh point guard Will Washington and Jonesboro’s MJ Walker, now ranked the eighth-best player in the class of 2017 by ESPN.
Both of his parents have enjoyed the journey. His mother, Pam, says, “I have truly enjoyed it. Isaac’s participation in sports has been our (life). My husband and I talked about what would we have been doing if Isaac wasn’t participating in sports? During the early years when his dad coached him, we were constantly at the parks pretty much seven days a week. Our house was the house all the kids came to spend the night at, which turned into the weekend and sometime the entire week during the summer months. We always had somebody’s child at our house. Playing inner city sports was great. Most of the kids came from a single parent home, and we were able to help young mothers. That’s what I enjoyed the most. We built long lasting relationships, and we have watched each of the kids go onto be successful. Isaac’s sport journey has given us so much joy. Sometimes we watch old videos of his games and are in awe at how much fun we were having and how much time has passed.”
Next, his team went to the 10U Final Four at AAU Nationals with a Worldwide Renegades team that featured MJ Walker, Auburn signee Jared Harper, and Harvard signee Robert Baker.
Isaac was the starting quarterback for the 12U Sandy Creek Youth Football Super Bowl Champions with Duke football signee Javon Jackson, McIntosh basketball star and Furman signee Jordan Lyons, and UGA signee Elijah Holyfield.
Coach Kevin Early, head coach of the Sandy Creek 12U team, says, “I have coached several great players. Isaac ranks among the best. Others may have been faster or bigger, but Isaac is a winner. When it was time to win a game, putting the ball in his hands was always an option. He refused to lose and helped to motivate his teammates to have the same attitude. He was a huge part of our championship season.”
Javon Jackson, Isaac’s teammate on that Sandy Creek tooth team and later teammate on Flat Rock football and basketball championship teams, describes Isaac by saying, “He was always a hard worker and he wanted to win more than anything. He was also one of the most athletic guys, and he could guard any position. He did the dirty work for us, and he was definitely the funniest person on the team.”
He was also a 13U AAU State Champion with Heat Check, a back-to-back football champ at Flat Rock Middle, and a county champion in basketball in seventh grade with Sandy Creek star and Gardner Webb signee Christian Turner.
Christian Turner, Isaac’s teammate on the Flat Rock football and basketball teams, says, “Isaac is a player on the court or field that knows how to execute his role. He accepts whatever the coach gives him, and he makes the best out of it. He doesn’t try and do too much, and he knows what he is good at. Off the court, Isaac is a great friend of mine. Although he doesn’t go to my school and he hasn’t for the past couple of years, we still manage to keep in touch. Isaac and I have been very good friends since we were five or six-years-old playing baseball together. He’s a friend that will always have your back no matter what the situation.”
He could have played any sport, but basketball became the focus. Charles says, “That was sort of a family decision. We just decided to focus on basketball because it requires more skill and time to develop. Although he had played football for 10 years, he would often be injured for the start of basketball season. He broke his hand as a sophomore, and it carried over into basketball season, so we just decided to focus on basketball. In hindsight, I think he would be a great wide receiver in college because of his size (Isaac is 6’ 4” and 198 pounds) and athleticism. You never know.”
Isaac says, “I chose basketball because I knew that was where my heart was. Everyone from coaches to teammates told me that at my size there would be more opportunities for me to attend college for football. Though that was true from a statistical standpoint, I knew I wouldn’t be able to leave basketball alone. I love the game too much.”
Football did leave a positive impact on his game. Isaac says, “Toughness and versatility. I can recall a game my sophomore year at Fayette against Shaw. I played outside linebacker for the majority of the game and both of our quarterbacks went down with injuries. I hadn’t taken a snap in practice, but I was the only other option to play quarterback so I had to stand in. Football taught me the importance of not being one-dimensional, something that carries over into my basketball game. I can play every position if need be, and that’s what I feel like is the best aspect of my game.”
The McIntosh Chiefs
The only level where Isaac has not won a championship yet is the high school level, but the Chiefs are fighting their way towards the 2016 AAAAA State Championship.
Since joining the team, Isaac has averaged 10 points and 3 rebounds per game. His biggest presence was felt against the Morrow Mustangs. The Chiefs were in a dog fight against the Mustangs, and, to make matters worse, their star point guard, Will Washington, and their star power forward, Dishon Lowery had both fouled out of the game. Jordan Lyons led the team in scoring with 25-points, but Kellum came through with a key rebound and a pair of free throws to seal the game. The Chiefs won 68-63, and Isaac was selected as Player of the Game for his clutch effort.
“It has been amazing to see how well he has fit in with our team from day one, especially on our veteran team that has been playing together so long,” says Coach Eisele. “It is impossible not to like Isaac, and the guys welcomed him with open arms. Missing the first half of his senior season, especially under the circumstances, was extremely taxing on him, and he showed tremendous perseverance throughout the ordeal. That and the support he had from his family, teammates, coaches, and entire student body was truly inspiring.”
Jordan Lyons, McIntosh’s all-time scoring leader adds, “The addition of Isaac has meant a lot to me. Not only is it great for our team, but it’s a very personal to me as well. I‘ve known Isaac since the sixth grade, and he’s been one of my closet friends. So, seeing him go through everything he did and battle all the adversity was a true testament to the type of person he is. It’s amazing that we finally are able to enjoy him on the court with us, and he takes us to the next level that really makes us an elite program.”
Will Washington, McIntosh star point guard and teammate from Isaac’s 10U Championship team agrees, ”He’s a huge asset to the team. He brings the length and scoring ability to the team. He also helps out on the glass and takes pressure off the guards and our big guys.”
Isaac is happy being a contributor on a top team. “My personal goal for this year is to be a defensive factor. On every team I’ve ever been on, I was mainly looked to for scoring, but, with guys Jordan and Will in the backcourt and Dishon and Chase down low, I don’t have to do that as much. I want to guard every team’s best guy and shut him down. I feel like if I set the tone defensively that will set my offensive game up to the point where it’ll just come naturally. As far as the team goal goes, I am expecting nothing less than a state title. We have all the tools we need. It’s just a matter of execution, and I feel like we’re up to the task.”
It’s been a long of work along the way. Charles says, “It’s been a family journey. I coached him at a young age, and my wife was the team mom for all of his teams. We would be at the park six days and week and kids from the team would often be at our home. I had to stop coaching him by the time he was 12 because it was difficult being dad and coach. Since then, we have really enjoyed watching him grow and blossom both athletically and academically. While I was coaching my wife would insist that he maintain his grades. It was a requirement that even I couldn’t help him with. If his grades slipped, he wasn’t playing. Isaac embraced the challenge early on and has been an excellent student-athlete.”
The system obviously worked because Isaac has a 3.8 GPA, ACT 24, SAT 1,580 ,and he is dual-enrolled at Clayton State. Simply put, Isaac is a role model student with great athletic skills.
Isaac is ready to finish off his high school career with a bang. “It’s surreal. I can remember my first day of high school like it was yesterday, and now in a couple of months I’ll be graduating and starting my life in the real world. I’ve learned so many lessons in just four years that will help me be a better man and ultimately live a good life.”
Kellum goes on to say, “My parents have meant everything to me when it comes to sports. My dad coached me until I was ten, and he’s always been my number one fan and critic. Even when I wasn’t under him anymore, he pushed me and did all he could to make me better. My mom has always been supportive of me as well. Both of them have made countless sacrifices for me and for that I am forever indebted.”
Playing At The Next Level
“Isaac hasn’t scratched the surface of his talent yet, he’s going to get bigger and stronger and better,” says Charles. “We want him to go somewhere where he’s wanted first of all, and then somewhere that will give him the best educational opportunities. I’ve been contacted by schools as far away as New York and Boston, so really it’s about how well he fits in and do they want him to be there. Staying closer to home so that we can attend games is important, but we want him to grow up and be his own man so we’ll see what happens.”
Pam adds, “My focus is primarily academics. Of course I want him to play ball in college because I know how much it means to him, but my focus is on his ability to keep his grades up. Isaac has been raised to achieve at a high standard, and he hasn’t been give any other options. Failure is not an option.”
Isaac is excited to figure out where he will end up. “I’ve been receiving interest from a lot of prep schools through the entire waiting period, but since I’m playing now I see things heating up. My coaches and teammates have been helping me get more exposure, and, since I have the grades, there a some schools trying to work out an academic/athletic type deal. So as far as basketball goes I’m confident that I’ll find a home.”
“I see Isaac as a D1 player at the next level,” says Coach Eisele. “If I had to pick one part of his game that he could improve on, it would be consistency in his perimeter game. He is a streaky shooter who can get hot and not miss, but then has cold spells. I have no doubt that if he continues to show the determination that he has exhibited since I have known him, he will continue to polish that aspect of his game.”
Coach Early says, “As Isaac moves to the next level, his intelligence, competitive nature, toughness, and leadership ability will prove to be great assets to not only his team, but to his university as a whole.”
Isaac Kellum has definitely made up for lost time and because of his outstanding play on the court, his superior performance in the classroom, and the maturity and perseverance that he exhibited while waiting to be cleared to play, he will receive several offers to play D1 basketball.