NBA

T-Wolves Draft Pick Isaiah Stewart Rejected His Idol, Patrick Ewing, to Play for the Washington Huskies

In the 2020 NBA draft, Isaiah Stewart came up big with a first-round pick. Most scouts knew he was something special. With the Detroit Pistons, he’ll have a chance to prove it. It’s not the first time he’s faced a change during his basketball career. Stewart, who grew up admiring Patrick Ewing, was confronted with a decision involving his very idol. Essentially still a kid, he had to man up and make a tough call.

Isaiah Stewart’s journey from young Knicks fan to first-round draft pick

Isaiah Stewart of the Washington Huskies
Washington Huskies forward Isaiah Stewart in 2020 | Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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Stewart is just 19, facing down the start of his NBA career. It speaks to his broad obsession with the game of basketball that his favorite basketball player comes from a time before he was even born. He didn’t even go with the obvious choice of venerating Michael Jordan. Instead, it was New York Knicks hero Patrick Ewing who became Stewart’s hero.

Stewart grew up with the social media era in full swing. He discovered clips of Ewing on YouTube and became entranced by Ewing’s in-your-face style. “I watched him a lot,” Stewart told the New York Post. “I always was on YouTube arguing with people about Patrick.” His fanaticism held for years, inspiring him to wear the No. 33 on his jerseys throughout high school and college.

Stewart’s Patrick Ewing fandom didn’t influence his career in the end

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The 6-foot-9 forward found a kindred spirit in the former Knicks center’s intimidating use of his size, combined with polished shooting. But one of the quirks of being a successful athlete is, you eventually end up working with, or against, your heroes. Even if your heroes haven’t played in two decades, the best-of-the-best often stay in the orbit of the game.

Stewart had to grow up fast when it came time to turn his dominant high school run into something more. Ewing is the head coach at Georgetown these days, and he went after Stewart hard. But the teenage forward in a grown man’s body had seen great things with the Washington Huskies. The program seemed like the perfect fit for him to follow in the footsteps of current NBA big men like Bam Adebayo and Montrezl Harrell.

“It was hard for me to say no to Georgetown, especially with Patrick Ewing recruiting me. Him having that Jamaican background, and my dad is Jamaican, they connected pretty easily. That was a great visit, and he was recruiting me hard,” Stewart said in Empire Sports Media. “I definitely considered Georgetown.”

Did Stewart make the right choice to join the Washington Huskies?

Stewart likely made the right decision. The Huskies were looking to get a player like him ample playing time, which allowed him to start all 32 games in his rookie year. News Tribune notes that this allowed Stewart to develop quickly, attracting NBA attention that made him a popular choice for a late first-round pick at worst.

He had a difficult run in his final year, which made some scouts worry about his athletic potential. That he went 16th overall was somewhat surprising, but also a sensible bet. UW head coach Mike Hopkins’ glowing praise spells it out. “He’s […] the ultimate professional. He’s focused, ready to go, can impact a team winning right away just in terms of his focus and his professionalism,” Hopkins told The Athletic.

It wasn’t a pick to be taken lightly, either. The 16th spot was first held by the Houston Rockets. They palmed it off to the Portland Trailblazers, who technically picked Stewart. The trade to the Pistons was instant, as the pick was actually their decision all along, the Detroit Free Press reports. It’s a big vote of confidence in a kid with a mindset that seems ready-made for the tough competition of the NBA. After all, he already was able to say no to his favorite basketball player.