Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for the Hawgs Sports Network. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas and previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was the 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Been there, done that: Joe was destined for historic performance
Arkansas guard Isaiah Joe is shown during a game against Florida International on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Fayetteville.
FORT SMITH — Knocking down 10 3-pointers in a game is nothing new for Isaiah Joe.
Nearly two years before scorching Florida International for a career-high 34 points on 10/13 from 3-point range in a 121-89 win last Saturday, he did it at Fort Smith Northside in the Grizzlies’ 2017 conference opener at Little Rock Central.
Coincidentally, he scored 34 points on 13 attempts that night, too.
Joe’s coach at Northside, Eric Burnett, isn’t surprised by the freshman’s success and always had supreme confidence in his shooting ability dating as far back as his seventh grade year when Joe joined him for workouts at the high school.
“I was able to find out a lot about him during that time,” Burnett said. “Sometimes I put the team on the baseline and I may say, ‘I need one person to get right here on this free throw line and knock down a shot so we can go home.’ They would pick Isaiah most of the time, and that told me they had much confidence in Isaiah.”
And once the practices were over?
“Instead of sitting down or going home, he would get the ball machine out and go to work,” Burnett added.
Joe’s rise to stardom began his sophomore year at Northside when he averaged nine points per game, shot 37 percent from distance and scored a season-high 24 points twice, once on the road against current Charlotte Hornets guard Malik Monk and Bentonville and again weeks later against rival Southside.
At one point during that season, he sat Joe down and encouraged him to play with a greater trust of his feathery-soft touch. At the end of that conversation, Burnett gave him the ultimate green light.
“I just told him, ‘Isaiah, when you come across halfcourt you’ve got my blessing to pull the trigger,’” he said. “I’ll be honest, there were times when I got upset with him because he didn’t pull the trigger because I have this thing where after you hit 2-3 in a row, hey, you let it fly. I don’t care where you’re at.
“Some people will probably think, 'That coach is crazy letting him do that,' but I don’t do that to a lot of kids. But Isaiah worked his tail off to reap the benefits to all the hard work he put in.”
Over his final two seasons with the Grizzlies, his play ensured he would be remembered at the school for years to come, leading the program to back-to-back 7A state championship game appearances and a state title in 2017. As a junior, Joe made 120 3-pointers all the while shooting 45 percent from deep. During one five-game stretch in 7A-Central play, Joe made 32 threes and, for the season, hit six-plus threes nine times.
Throughout Joe's recruitment, Arkansas coach Mike Anderson and assistant coach Melvin Watkins quickly understood they were getting a 3-point specialist, but they wanted to know more, and Burnett had just the story that would tell them all they needed to know.
Following a disappointing loss at Conway during Joe's sophomore season, the team returned home and Burnett locked up the basketballs. For nearly an hour, players jumped benches, pushed towels across the hardwood floor and ran at their coach's whistle. Thirty minutes in, Joe leaned over a nearby trashcan vomiting and in pain.
"I looked at him and said, ‘OK, Isaiah, you can go ahead and sit out,'" Burnett said. "And in his little squeaky voice he said, ‘No, coach, if everyone else is going to do it then I’m going to do it.' Then whatever distance we were running, he made his time, and that right there told me a lot about Isaiah."
That's the type of kid we want, Anderson and Watkins told Burnett.
Joe is a rare case of star without ego. Numerous times this season, Anderson has reverted back to Joe's upbringing and largely credited his parents for his unpretentious personality. Good or bad, he's never too high or never too low.
“I think he's grounded, I think he's well-rounded,” Anderson said. “He wants to be a great player and he works at it. He plays within himself and I think he's humble. So, the two words I always talk about is humble and hungry. He's growing and he is getting better.
"He's maturing, and we need that. We need him to grow up for this basketball team.”
Joe's historic shooting performance against FIU garnered SEC Player of the Week honors. He is just the second Razorbacks player to win the award and the first since Courtney Fortson in 2009. Burnett's phone blew up with 'Did you see this?' text messages and his Facebook page was buzzing with support for his former standout.
"He don’t have to be the leading scorer or the center of attention," Burnett said. "Sometimes it happens where he is, but he doesn’t have to be. He just wants to win.
"For a couple of days around here there was a lot of hype and people talking about that."
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