La Salle guard Isiah Deas attempts a shot against Villanova.
(USA Today Images)
Isiah “Shaggy” Deas has followed somewhat of an atypical path to becoming a heavily relied upon figure in La Salle’s rotation. Deas spent part of his high school years at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, NY, where he was a two-star recruit with little Division 1 interest.
Despite being on a squad that featured players like current St. John’s star Shamorie Ponds and St. Francis (BKN) guard Rasheem Dunn, Deas thrived at Jefferson. Following their win to capture the “borough title,” head coach Lawrence Pollard said to the Brooklyn Daily that Deas “doesn’t know how good he is. He’s one of the better players in the city, but he is just too cool and laid back. He’s just a nice kid. I told him, ‘listen brother, this is Brooklyn AA — nice guys finish last.’ ”
Following his time at Jefferson, Deas, as a two-star recruit, noticed that his Division 1 future may be limited. That helped him make the decision to spend a year in prep school at Coastal Academy in New Jersey.
“A year of prep school, I really believe will give me the time needed to dedicate to my body. Getting in the weight room and getting stronger will only make me more prepared for college,” Deas told NYCHoops.net.
During his prep year, Deas lead Coastal Academy to a 28-6 record, showing great potential as a versatile defender and athletic finisher.
Deas’ recruiting hype hit its pinnacle in April of 2016, when he was named the MVP of the Annual Unsigned Hype Senior Showcase in Brooklyn, scoring 23 points.
“I just wanted to come out here, play hard and put on a show for the people” Deas told the Forest Hills Times. “A lot of coaches were in here, I just wanted to show them what I could do.”
It wasn’t until late in June of ‘16 that the report came out about Isiah Deas signing with La Salle, only days before Deas was supposed to report to Philly to begin taking classes. Even when he finally was a student at La Salle, the status of Deas’ academic eligibility was in question. The speculations came to a haul on November 9th and two days later, the Explorers’ took on Temple, where Deas started and turned heads, scoring 12 points in 29 minutes of play.
Deas told City of Basketball Love that when thinking about his first game at La Salle, he “still get chills. Starting your first college game was just amazing in itself, on the road, at Temple, It was ridiculous.”
After that Temple game, La Salle’s head coach Dr. John Giannini never awarded Deas the opportunity to play further extensive minutes for the Explorers during his freshman season, averaging 9.9 minutes per game throughout 17 games.
This season, Deas has been a bright spot during an up-and-down year for the Explorers.
Shaggy has seen his minutes and role in the offense expand more and more as his sophomore season progresses, now averaging 10.6 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 assist on 39% shooting from the field in 25.4 minutes per game. At this point in his development, Deas is well suited for his role as the team’s sixth man. Often paired on the floor with either Pookie Powell or B.J. Johnson, Deas is a versatile player in the offense. He can be a shot-creator from the wing when needed, with a nice mid-range pull-up that keeps defenders close to him.
In turn, this has opened up dribble-drive opportunities as well and as this part of his game becomes more effective, defenses will begin collapsing on him. At some point, it would be wise for Deas to expand his game with kick-out passes to the perimeter, keeping defenses from collapsing on him in the lane, while also setting teammates up with open three-point shots.
Deas can also settle in as a floor spacer and third scoring option in lineups that feature him, Powell, and Johnson, as 48% of all Deas’ field goal attempts come from behind the three-point line. With Johnson’s injury and nearly month-long absence, the Explorers have relied upon Deas this past month more than ever, posting a usage percentage of 24.7% on the season, third highest usage percentage on the team and merely four points lower than second place Powell. He has scored in double digits six out of the last seven games showing that he is continuing to get more comfortable on the floor for Giannini.
With the eminent departure of Amar Stukes and B.J. Johnson after this season, there will be glaring roster holes that La Salle will need to fill. If Deas can continue to grow stronger and improve his rebounding, his 6-foot-6 frame will fit perfectly into the wing-forward role that B.J. Johnson currently occupies.
The ceiling for what Deas may develop into during the next few years is quite high. With his combination of length, athleticism, shot-making ability, and defensive potential, Deas can be the Explorers’ best player and leader down the line and looks from NBA scouts are certainly not out of the question.
La Salle guard Johnnie Shuler dribbles up the court against Mercer.
(La Salle Athletics)
The Empire will be running a series titled “Q and A,” where writers will provide in-depth answers to a couple of burning and/or interesting questions surrounding a specific City 6 team.
What is Johnnie Shuler's role on the team down the stretch?
Two seasons ago, Shuler’s sophomore year, he averaged 35.6 minutes per game, demonstrating an ability to create his own shot that many expected could translate into a 6th man, spark-plug off the bench type role for the team. But Shuler has never really made the impact that some may have foreseen.
This season, Shuler is averaging 2.2 points, 1.1 assists, and 12 minutes per game in all 14 of La Salle’s contest. Dr. Giannini turns to Shuler for short spurts to spell Pookie Powell. In the past three games, Shuler has seen his minutes increase, with 22 against Mercer, 18 against Bucknell and 18 again in their most recent match against Saint Louis.
Still, however, when Shuler does play, he hasn’t been aggressive shooting the ball, with just 6.4 shots per 40 minutes, leading only Miles Brookins on the team in this statistic. When Shuler does decide to shoot, 70% of the time it is from behind the three point arc. Hopefully for him, the law of averages kick in, and his 32% three-point shooting effectiveness climbs back somewhere towards the 40% he put up last season.
Shuler’s best way to help the Explorers is to be an efficient distributor and feisty guard rebounder, something they’ll need with the small-ball lineup. His 16.7 assist percentage follows only Pookie Powell on the team, and his 6.3 total rebounding percentage leads all Explorers who stand 6-foot-3 or shorter. Although it is not the most important attribute for a guard, getting the extra possessions from rebounds really matters in the big picture of a game. It would not be a surprise to see the momentum of a tough conference match swayed in the Explorers’ direction, thanks to Johnnie Shuler jumping “into the trees” of big men and pulling down a tough rebound.
Which player has exceeded preseason expectations?
In my La Salle season preview, I had B.J. Johnson averaging 17 points per game, 6 rebounds on 45% shooting. So far this season, Johnson has shown that I, along with many others, underestimated just how good Johnson could be as the clear number one scoring option. He boasts a stat line of 21.8 points and 9.1 rebounds on 43% shooting.
With much of opponents’ defensive attention directed on him, Johnson has made a big adjustment to where his shots are coming from. He is shooting 3-point shots at a fewer rate this season then he has his entire career, with just 31% of his total shots coming from behind the arc. Last season, 47% of Johnson’s shots came from 3, and during his two seasons at Syracuse, the number was 56%. His best game this season was against South Alabama where he scored 30 points on 58% shooting and 11 rebounds.
Johnson has looked very comfortable in his role as the team’s alpha dog. If he can return to form from his injury, Johnson’s excellent season should put him atop the list for City 6 Player of the Year and perhaps even the Atlantic 10’s Player of the Year as well.
How are the freshmen developing?
Head coach Dr. John Giannini has a history of not allocating a lot of minutes to freshman in his rotations, playing them only if necessary. This year, injuries and the makeup of the roster has required four freshmen to be used by the Explorers for at least 15 minutes all season. Additionally, all six freshmen have seen more run recently, playing 62 minutes combined in the last three games.
Miles Brookins’ 143 minutes played this season leads La Salle’s freshman class. He is averaging 3.7 points and 1.6 rebounds in 11.9 minutes per game, nailing 63% of his field goal attempts. Brookins length and energy make him impactful in the short bursts that he plays, and his 142.7 offensive rating leads all Explorers. He will likely step right into the starting center spot come senior Tony Washington’s departure, and if Brookins continues his development path, he will be an important player in the program’s future.
The next leading freshman minute earner for the Explorers is Jamir Moultrie, the 6-foot-1 guard from D.C. Moultrie has played in six games this season, totaling 23 minutes. While his on-court sample size is still small thus far, Moultrie has shown a proclivity to shoot in volume when given the chance, putting up the ball 1.7 times in 3.8 minutes averaged per game.
Moultrie's aggressive shot seeking has him leading all Explorers in a number of advanced offensive statistics. Although the statistics may be a little inflated due to his lower amount of minutes, they are important to consider, allowing Explorer fans to get a sense of what Moultrie could bring to the table. He sits first in points per 40 minutes (24.3), player efficiency rating (27.9), and offensive box plus/minus (10.6). His 133.2 offensive rating is also second on the team. Moultrie is currently buried on La Salle’s depth chart, but with Amar Stukes and Johnnie Shuler’s time with the program ending after this season, Moultrie should be on track to be an every game player for the Explorers next season.
Redshirt freshman Cian Sullivan has seen a recent uptick in his in-game action, tallying 8 minutes against Bucknell in a game that Brookins missed. On the season, the 7-foot-2 Irishman has played 22 minutes in six games while also earning a pair of starts. Sullivan’s length has been apparent in his stints on the court, as his 6.8 defensive box plus/minus, 19.2 block percentage, and 91.6 defensive rating lead the team. Sullivan’s 4 blocked shots has him tied for second on the team with Isiah Deas and Saul Phiri. As promising as Sullivan’s defense could look, his offensive skills will definitely need to improve. In his last game against Bucknell, he notched 0 points on 3 shots in 8 minutes of play. Among all Explorers who have played at least 15 minutes this season, Sullivan’s 51.1 offensive rating and -13.5 offensive box plus/minus are both the lowest on the team.
After Sullivan, the next freshman minute earner is Dajour Joseph. Joseph has played 15 minutes in five games this year. Joseph, like Moultrie, has been aggressive with his shot attempts when Dr. Giannini unleashes him. Joseph’s 7 field goal attempts make him the second most aggressive Explorer in terms of shooting rate, with 18.7 field goal attempts per 40 minutes, trailing only B.J. Johnson’s 19.4 field goal attempts. As a freshman and already having a 6-foot-6, 207-pound frame, it is easy to envision how Joseph would fit as a small-ball ‘4’ in the Explorers’ rotation for years to come.
How is the rest of the A-10 stacking up?
As teams begin conference play, the Atlantic 10 has a clear favorite, the Rhode Island Rams. The Rams are 9-3 on the year, led by senior guard Jared Terrell (17.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg and 2.9 apg). Rhode Island has a couple decent wins on their non-conference resume, defeating #21 Seton Hall 75-74 and a 10-5 Providence team 75-68. They also defeated George Mason in their only conference game so far. The Explorers play at Rhode Island on January 3rd and will battle in Philly on February 20th.
Another team that is expecting to make a run in the A10 conference is St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies are 11-2 on the season, with impressive wins against Maryland and Syracuse, while notching a win against Dayton in their first conference game. The Bonnies are led by senior guard Jaylen Adams, who is averaging 20.1 points, followed by another senior guard, Matt Mobley, who notches 18.3 points per contest. St. Bonaventure is currently shooting 39.8% on their 3-point shots, which is 32nd in the nation.
St. Joseph’s, VCU, and Dayton made up a third tier of teams in the Atlantic 10 conference preseason poll. While St. Joe’s is 5-7 (0-1 in conference) on the year, VCU is 9-5 (1-0) and Dayton is 6-7 (0-1).
The next teams from the preseason poll are Davidson, St. Louis, Richmond, and La Salle. The Davidson Wildcats are 5-7 (0-1) this season, St. Louis is 7-7 (0-1), and Richmond is 3-10 (1-0).
The final five teams, whom the A10’s preseason poll expected at the bottom of the conference standings by season’s end are George Mason (6-8, 0-1), George Washington (8-6, 1-0), Massachusetts (7-7, 0-1), Fordham (5-8, 0-1), and Duquesne (10-4. 1-0).
-La Salle loses to UMass in the first round of the A-10 tournament