By Kevin Sweeney
Just over two months ago, it didn’t look like Isaiah Brock would play a single minute this season for the Oakland Golden Grizzlies.
Now, he’s a vital cog for an Oakland team off to its best start as a Division 1 program.
The 22-year old Brock’s story drew national attention in early October when the NCAA ruled him ineligible to play this season for not having the requisite high school grades.
However, Brock was not a typical college enrollee.
Isaiah’s story began in Baltimore, where he was an outstanding football, basketball, and lacrosse player at Forest Park High School, where he also ran track. However, he never worried about his grades because he always planned to enlist in the Armed Forces. After graduation, a milestone that only around 70% of Forest Park students achieve, he enrolled in the Army.
He spent four years in the Army, putting his life on the line in the war zones of Afghanistan and Kuwait, where he served as a mortuary affairs specialist. His work earned him numerous awards and honors from the Army.
His time serving his country also led him to what would eventually be the next journey in his life: college basketball. In 2015, Brock attended the “Hardwood Classic” in Kuwait, an event put on by the Troops First Foundation in which college head coaches coach groups of actively-serving troops in a basketball tournament meant to boost morale. Coaches such as Jimmy Patsos (Siena), Steve Lavin (St. John’s), Pete Gillen (Virginia 1998-2005), and Oakland’s Greg Kampe attended the event. Kampe met Brock at the event when their teams faced off. That began their relationship, and eventually, Kampe offered Brock a scholarship to play basketball at Oakland.
Kampe wasn’t sure whether Brock would ever be a major contributor for the Golden Grizzlies. In fact, he couldn’t guarantee that Brock would ever play a minute.
“I thought him being around my players would just be unbelievable from a leadership perspective. I wanted my players to meet him and be around him. And if he ever played basketball, that would be awesome, too. So I told him I couldn’t promise playing time. But I told him I could give him an opportunity to experience college basketball.” Kampe told Gary Parrish in an CBSSports.com article.
However, the story didn’t appear to have a happy ending in October, when the NCAA ruled that Brock would be ineligible to play this season due to his high school grades, despite having an acceptable standardized test score and being 5 years removed from taking a high school course. Brock had excelled in a pair of college classes he took online during his time overseas, and got an A and a B in his two summer courses at Oakland.
The story brought national scrutiny to the NCAA, and thanks to public attention and a letter written by Michigan congressman Mike Bishop, Brock was cleared for play just under 2 weeks later, just under a month before the season began.
While the decision seemed minor for Oakland’s team at the time, since Brock wasn’t expected to contribute much on the floor, it was definitely a cool story for Brock, Oakland, and the entire college basketball world.
What Brock has contributed on the floor has been beyond what anyone anticipated. He’s emerged as the starting center for the Golden Grizzlies and is averaging 6.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game so far this season. Last time out, he posted 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 blocks in a 74-53 rout of Robert Morris, earning him Horizon League Rookie of the Week honors for the second time in three weeks.
One of the people Kampe credits the most for his team’s incredible improvement on defense this season, from allowing 78.5 points per game to now just 66.6 points per game this season, is Brock.
“Since Benson (Keith, star at Oakland from 2007-2011) left, we’ve not had a rim protector.” Kampe said in an interview with broadcaster Neal Ruhl following the win over Robert Morris (Golden Grizzlies/Youtube). “Then we have the ultimate one in Isaiah. Word’s getting out, shots are getting blocked, shots are getting altered, and the mindset when they get in there it ain’t going to be easy and that someone’s lurking. That’s why it has changed.”
As for the offensive end of the floor, Isaiah has the ability to energize the crowd with some big dunks. 18 of his 32 field goals this season have come via the slam, a play that can change the momentum of the game all together.
The Oakland fans and the entire community have embraced Brock since his story began being told. Prior to their season opener on Veterans Day, Brock was honored in a pregame ceremony. Last week, he was invited to attend a Detroit Lions game and was brought onto the field to be honored as an Aplebee’s Hometown Hero.
Up next for Brock and the Golden Grizzlies is a stretch of three games in four days against Northeastern, Michigan State, and Georgia. These critical games could show us whether or not this Oakland team can be real contenders with Valparaiso for the Horizon League title.
Oakland sits at 9-1 for the season. Could a trip to the NCAA Tournament be the next chapter in Isaiah Brock’s storybook season?
With what he’s accomplished already, it certainly wouldn’t surprise me.