Briscoe’s back and ready to lead

Men’s basketball media day

By Chris Angolia

From the moment he was tabbed a top recruit in the class of 2015, Isaiah Briscoe had high expectations. Nothing has changed entering his second year at UK.

When Briscoe departed his hometown of Newark, N.J., last summer, people expected the 6’3” guard to be a heavy contributor during his freshman year.

Briscoe’s transition wasn’t exactly smooth last year, especially shooting the ball. Despite averaging 9.6 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game and an assist to turnover ratio of 1.6 the shooting seemed to outweighed the rest. He only shot 13.5 percent from three-point range and just 46 percent from the free throw line as a freshman. The numbers were surprising because Briscoe shot 36 percent from deep and 70 percent from the line as a senior in high school. After his struggles last season, Briscoe is trying to recapture the form from his high school days.

“I’m just getting comfortable with shooting the ball,” Briscoe said. “I’m in the gym every night just trying to get better. I’m in here most of the night’s shooting, just trying to get my muscle memory right and get more comfortable shooting the ball.”

Already through the team’s two exhibition games, Briscoe has shot considerably better. He’s 7-10 from the free throw line and 7-11 from the field. Although the sample size is somewhat unrealistic, it is still promising. It also helps that he now has his confidence back with at least taking the outside shots, which is something he lost towards the end of last season.

Related: Backcourt ready to ball for Cats in 2016

But to UK’s benefit, Briscoe’s poor shooting from a year ago likely kept him in Lexington for another season. The expectations will be higher for Briscoe this year because of John Calipari’s recent success with second-year point guards. Tyler Ulis increased his points per game by 12 and field goal percentage from 40 percent as a freshman to 43 percent as a sophomore.

However, Briscoe’s biggest attribution to the team could be his leadership. Sophomore players have been a rarity in the Calipari era, but the coach likes the leadership Briscoe is delivering so far.

“Isaiah’s bought into it,” Calipari said at media day in October. “That’s why I couldn’t be more pleased. He’s leading on the court. We’re teaching him how to lead off the court just like we did with Tyler.”

While it is important for Calipari to see that Briscoe is becoming a leader, it may be more important that his teammates are taking notice too, especially the inexperienced freshmen.

Briscoe was in their position a year ago and knows how difficult the transition to the college game is, especially at UK when freshmen are almost always thrown directly into the rotation.

“Isaiah already knows everything that goes on and he does nothing but help,” freshman guard De’Aaron Fox said in the preseason.

Briscoe’s improvement both on and off the court is going to play a big role in the team’s success this season, and the New Jersey native is looking poised to break-out this season as the leader of one of the nation’s elite teams.