There have been plenty of times this season that South Albany coach Tim Matuszak had to remind Isaiah Gilliam that what he was doing was not easy.
South’s star point guard Gilliam led the RedHawks to the brink of a conference title in one of the state’s toughest leagues, despite being the only roster to ever go. suitable for a college match. He shredded Diamond’s and Sprague’s defense, tactfully finding ways to prepare his teammates for easy buckets against a ploy designed to keep him from hitting the ball. He lost 41 points to North Salem, going wild towards the basket for layup after layup when the Vikings chose not to pass him.
None of this is supposed to be easy, and yet Gilliam has been doing the spectacular look routine every night this spring.
“What I love about Isaiah is that I could try to put him down after a loss, like, ‘It’s okay to be frustrated. What you’re going through is difficult,’ said Matuszak. But that didn’t matter to him, he’s such a competitor, he expected to win every game regardless.
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His relentless efforts to lead the RedHawks to success is what made Gilliam such a prolific goalscorer during his preparation career, and now it has paved the way for the next chapter in his basketball career.
Last week, Gilliam signed a letter of intent to play for Clackamas Community College next season and will join a Cougars program that is a regular contender in the Northwest Athletic Conference playoffs.
“I’ve been waiting for this day since I started playing basketball,” said Gilliam. “It was just good to finally be there with my family. All the support they gave me – it was just a great feeling all around.
Last month, Gilliam was named Mid-Willamette Conference Player of the Year. He averaged 22.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and four steals per game while leading the RedHawks to a 10-6 record and a 7-2 conference final.
For South, these contributions on the ground were irreplaceable. When put into context, they are even more meaningful.
During Gilliam’s junior year, the team grew to 20-6 and were the No.6 team in 5A before the pandemic abruptly ended their trip to the Tournament of State. Most of this team’s key contributors graduated after the season, and Gilliam and Evan Benson were the only two college players to return. But before the start of the 2021 season, Benson received a job offer that was too good to pass up and informed Matuszak that he would have to miss the season.
It meant it was suddenly Gilliam’s team.
Matuszak surrounded him with a team of very talented players – even though they were making the jump to college from junior college and, in some cases, college ball.
Gilliam gave the team consistent scoring threat and defensive intensity, but his contributions off the field were just as important.
From organizing team group texts to helping making sure young players know the schedule each week, to making sure everyone was present for the study of the film, to directing the ‘team in daily warm-ups, Gilliam was essentially another assistant coach for the RedHawks this spring. .
“We had a lot of kids who just hadn’t been to college,” said Matuszak. “In seven weeks he turned these guys into players who seemed to be on the program for four years already. They just looked comfortable and relaxed, and that was in large part due to Isaiah and his day-to-day expectations. He made my job really easy.
Gilliam’s senior season at South will undoubtedly go down as one of the best in program history. But it almost didn’t happen. For much of the past 12 months, Gilliam and Matuszak both thought the last game of his junior season was his last in a RedHawks uniform.
Once the pandemic struck, it became evident that athletic opportunities in Oregon high schools might be scarce. Gilliam had just enjoyed a strong junior season, but he was still working for scholarship offers and couldn’t risk missing his senior season altogether.
He and his family began to explore the preparatory school route, in the hopes that he could transfer and resume playing regularly. Gilliam contacted a few former teammates who were enrolled at Relentless Or Nothing (RON), a prep school in Inglewood, Calif. He was told there was an opening there that would allow him to play all year against high-caliber opponents.
He transferred to RON last November and, at the time, believed his career at South was over.
“I basically said goodbye to him and wished him luck,” Matuszak said.
Over the next three months, Gilliam more or less lived the life of a college basketball player. Workouts early in the morning, classes in the early afternoon, then more training in the evening.
“It wasn’t like any normal high school day,” said Gilliam.
He loved the competitive environment and credits his time to RON for helping to grow his game exponentially. But the movement also had its drawbacks.
He had kept in touch with Matuszak and spoke to him often after his matches. Gilliam informed his trainer that he believed RON hadn’t lined him up to receive all the credits he needed to graduate in June, and Matuszak helped him get in touch with a counselor to help him. to solve the problem.
Gilliam also told Matuszak that he was starting to feel homesick and a bit exhausted. He did not play in California Interscholastic Federation sanctioned matches, but instead played for a club team that included a group of his RON teammates. It was always a great opportunity, but it didn’t come with the prestige of playing for the best team in the academy. During one streak, Gilliam told Matuszak he played around 90 games in 60 days.
He chose to come home to complete his final year of college, and soon after, the OSAA presented a plan for a 2021 basketball season. In that sense, things couldn’t have been better. pass for Gilliam; he started working on his game during the winter months against some quality opponents in California and would still get his senior season in South.
But he was returning to a totally different squad than the one he spoke with at Gill Coliseum in March 2020 in South’s last game before the pandemic.
“There were no players left from the team I first played with when I moved to Oregon in seventh year,” said Gilliam. “I was the only one in my class, all the guys I grew up with were gone.”
Rather than focusing on the struggles of being South’s only returning college player, Gilliam embraced the leadership aspect of his role and also enjoyed the opportunity to play with and mentor his younger brother, DeShawn.
Isaiah and DeShawn have dreamed of having the opportunity to play together since they were little children, and Isaiah made sure to make the most of every time he and his brother spent together at the gym.
“I think he will be a lot better than I’ve ever been,” said Isaiah Gilliam. “It’s exciting to see. That’s all I want for him. I’ve given him a hard time this season, and he was definitely mad at me at times. But he knows it was all about love and I just want him to be the best player he can be.
Jarrid Denney can be contacted at 541-521-3214 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jarrid_denney