Isaiah Zierden will bring to Creighton a reputation of being a good perimeter shooter.
How good, you ask? Well, John Moore has a story for you.
Moore is Zierden's coach at Benilde-St. Margaret's High School in suburban Minneapolis. He runs a drill that has his players shoot from five spots on the floor: both corners, the two wings and the top of the key.
A player starts at the corner. When he misses two shots in a row, he has to move to the next spot. Two more misses from that spot, and he moves again. All the time, he's counting his made shots. A player can miss once from a spot and still add to his total of makes, but two misses in a row has him moving.
"We did the drill early in the season, and Isaiah made 67 before he went around the horn and had his 10 misses," Moore said. "That was better than anybody else, but I knew he could do better. I told him, 'Next time we do this drill, your goal is 100 (makes).'"
Moore waited three days before putting his shooters through the drill again. It took Zierden 45 minutes to complete it, and by the time he was finished, he had made 265 3-point shots before his 10 misses.
"I had to send him down to the other end of the floor because it took so long," Moore said. "He wore out the ball boys that were rebounding for him. Obviously, he's a great shooter. I haven't seen anyone in 17 years of high school coaching that can flat-out shoot it like him."
Zierden recently got to show his shooting skills to the nation, participating in a 3-point contest in New Orleans the day before the Final Four. He finished second in the competition with eight other shooters, although he made more shots in the first two rounds than anyone else. He lost in the final by one point.
"I never like to lose, but it was a great experience," Zierden said. "I got to shoot against some other guys I had played against or had heard about. It was great competition, and I made some new friends along the way.
"It was a ton of fun, and they treated us like kings for a couple of days."
It was Zierden's shooting ability on last summer's AAU circuit that caught the eye of Creighton's coaches and led them to offer a scholarship to the 6-foot-2, 165-pound guard from St. Louis Park, Minn.
He made 20 3-point shots in five games at the prestigious Nike Peach Jam in Augusta, S.C., last July. He also shot a tournament high 94.7 percent (18 of 19) from the free-throw line.
He committed to Creighton in early August, picking the Bluejays over scholarship offers from Manhattan, Wofford, George Mason and Jacksonville. Notre Dame, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Penn State and Pepperdine also showed strong interest.
His excitement in joining the program increased as he watched Creighton put together a special season, winning a school record-tying 29 games and making it to the third round of the NCAA tournament.
"I knew when I committed that I was joining a very good program," Zierden said. "I was excited when I committed, and now there's a different feeling of excitement. I can't wait to get down there and starting working with the team."
Creighton's success has made at least one thing easier for Zierden. Friends were constantly asking him after he committed where Creighton was, and if it was a Division I or Division II school.
"I still get that now and again," he said, "but with them making the tournament, most people know about them now. It's funny how that works."
Zierden is one of two high school players Creighton signed last November. The other, Andre Yates, led Dayton Dunbar High School to the Ohio Division II state championship.
Zierden's team went 27-2 but didn't make it to state, losing to Minneapolis Washburn in the section (district) final. Zierden averaged 19.7 points, shot 46 percent from 3-point range and 89 percent from the free-throw line. Those numbers made him a finalist for Minnesota's Mr. Basketball award. Teammate Sanjay Lumpkin, a Northwestern commit, also was one of the five finalists for the award.
"The way things ended was disappointing for us," Moore said. "But Isaiah had a great year, and he had everything to do with us having a great year."
Moore said Zierden plays the game like who he is — a coach's son. His father, Don, is an assistant coach for the NBA's Washington Wizards. He also has been an assistant for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons, as well as serving two seasons (2007-09) as the head coach of the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx.
"He and his dad are very close, and his dad has helped him in all aspects of the game," Moore said. "Isaiah really understands the finer points of the game. Before his dad went to Washington, they spent a lot of time on the court together.
"Any time you can have an NBA coach coaching you, that's pretty good."
Zierden credits his dad's presence in having a big influence on his basketball development. His father's absence the last couple of seasons, Isaiah said, also has been a factor in his on-court growth.
"I know this sounds weird, but when I was growing up and he was always around, I was never really that tough on the court," Isaiah said. "But since he's been gone these last couple of years, it has kind of made me grow up.
"I think that's going to help me as I head off to college because I know I'm going to have to go there and make it on my own and grow up even more."
Zierden's next step in his basketball development will come in early June when he reports with Creighton's other players to begin the summer conditioning program. One of Zierden's goals is to get bigger and stronger in order to compete in the more physical collegiate game.
His coach says he already shoots the basketball like a college player, but that's hardly on Zierden's mind as he prepares himself for the competition he'll face at Creighton. The Bluejays return all but one scholarship player for next season, and two scholarship redshirts will be added to the mix, along with Zierden and Yates.
"Coming in, I'm not going to be worried about my shots," he said. "I just want to do whatever I can to make the team better next year. I know there's going to be a lot of competition for playing time, but I've told the coaches that I didn't want to go to a place where they tell you that you can come in and play right away.
"I want to come in and earn my spot. I like the competition, and if I can make the team, I'll know that I've earned it."
What if next November the coaches come to him and suggest that he could benefit from a redshirt season? If that happens, Zierden said, he'll deal with it.
"But that's not my mindset coming in," he said. "I'm going to go out and work hard every day so that I don't find myself in that situation."
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