The 2020-21 men’s basketball season for Isiah Small proved to be the best of his career. Seeing statistical improvements in terms of points, assists, and blocks on a per-game basis, in addition to improved shooting numbers across the board, Small produced a solid senior campaign.
But from his perspective, his ’20-21 season wasn’t good enough. Before the start of the season, Small sat down with me and told me how he wanted to become the Sun Belt Conference’s “Defensive Player of the Year”, in addition to showing off his improved shooting stroke.
The 6’8 Forward from New Jersey noticed his statistical improvements, but he wasn’t impressed with his performances down the stretch last season. While he glowingly spoke about his teammates and of how proud he was of the group of men that won the Sun Belt Conference last year, he feels like last season wasn’t good enough by his standards.
“I mean I feel like I let myself down (last season),” Small said. “I feel like I should’ve been on the (Sun Belt Conference’s) second or third team. I’m working even harder now.”
Small’s work ethic has been the staple of his collegiate career. It’s been what his teammates and coaches believe to be the embodiment of who Small is, not only as a basketball player but as a man.
He doesn’t have your typical cinderella Division-I athlete story. Small wasn’t the highly recruited, social media sensation. Small was born in Jersey City, NJ, and took the community college route before landing in San Marcos.
His senior season in high school saw him average a stat line of nearly a double-double. He averaged 20 points, nearly ten rebounds, and over three blocks per game. His route after was a trip to Kansas, landing at SCCC. He played at Seward County Community College beginning in 2017, where he had an illustrious two-year stint. Small’s two-season run there as a Saint saw him win numerous awards while putting up high-level statistics across the board.
It was then, after his sophomore season, where he finally landed the Division-I offer that he dreamed about since being a kid. His journey to this point has been solely based on the amount of work he’s put in year-round on the basketball court. It’s been something that Assistant Coach Robert Guster says makes Isiah Small the man we see today.
“His upbringing, although it was tough, made him who he is today,” Guster said. “The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Isiah, is just a high-level of character. (His character) definitely comes from work ethic.”
Coach Guster believes that the best has yet to come for Small and his game. Noting that Small has “been a sponge” when it comes to learning and being coached, Guster says that Small has taken pride in things that he never has in previous offseasons. Most notably, in the weight room. Guster has high expectations for the fifth-year senior and believes he has all the tools to progress even more.
“I expect you to see a better (all-around) player. I expect him to be a guy, that’s definitely, for lack of other terms, a problem, for the opponent,” Guster said. “He’ll be bigger, stronger, faster, for sure. He’s emerged as definitely one of the leaders of this program.”
While Small’s dedication to the program has never been stronger, his decision to return to the program came around the mid-season point. He mentioned how he could’ve transferred to a more prestigious program using his “COVID-year” in 2021-22, but he felt a sense of loyalty and believes there’s unfinished business here at Texas State.
“When we lost to App State, I was like “Oh yeah, I have to come back,” Small said. “(I was like) there’s no way I can go out sad like this.”
Small’s consistent impact on the floor for the Bobcats was evident throughout last season. Yet, he isn’t close to being satisfied. It’s worth noting that Small isn’t much of a “talker” or a “bragger” when it comes to his game, but he’s coming back to the program for much more than stats.
“I felt like the Sun Belt didn’t give me my credit. I feel like they disrespected me,” Small said. “I’m coming back for all types of disrespect.”
Small is fully set on the 2021 season, with his preparation for next year already underway. His goals are to improve in every way possible as a basketball player. Playing his final season as a Bobcat, Small will be looking to solidify his legacy as one of the best players to wear Maroon and Gold.
“I want to leave a mark everywhere I go, my legacy is [I want people to say] that’s one player that can do everything,” Small said. “I want people to know I have fun doing what I do, (I want people to say) win or lose, he always gives it 100 percent effort.”