One of the first things Isaiah Miles does after each game is go to his locker and check his phone.
And when he does, the Saint Joseph’s senior forward almost always finds texts from Langston Galloway, Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic — the three professional players who led St. Joe’s to the Atlantic 10 championship in 2014.
“They’ll say, ‘Good game, keep it up, we’re watching you,’” Miles said from the SJU locker room after pouring in 31 points in Tuesday’s 85-82 loss to VCU. “That means a lot that they’ve been gone for two years and they’re still supporting me. It means a lot, especially because their lifestyle now is pretty busy but they take time out to watch us and show love for me.”
There’s a lot to love right now about Miles’ game — from former players, alums and fans alike.
Perhaps the most improved player in the city, the 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 18.3 points — tops on the team and sixth in the Atlantic 10. He’s also second in the conference in rebounding (8.6), second in free throw percentage (.889), fifth in blocks (1.6) and 11th in three-point percentage (.406).
It’s that inside-out combination that makes him such a feared matchup for opposing teams — and, of course, one of the biggest reasons the Hawks are off to an 11-3 start heading into Sunday’s home game against Rhode Island.
“He has the rep of being a shooter,” teammate DeAndre Bembry said. “When he plays the four and five, I can’t picture any four or five, being the size they are, running out on the jump shooter. He shoots better than any of us on the team. That’s really a hard matchup for anyone in our league — or any league.”
Bembry, the Hawks’ electrifying junior who’s averaging 16.4 points and 7.7 rebounds, added that he relishes playing with a big man who can shoot. And it’s helped his own game with St. Joe’s head coach Phil Martelli calling the duo a “great one-two punch.”
But Martelli knew both players would be kicking themselves for missing free throws down the stretch as St. Joe’s blew a 13-point second-half lead in Tuesday’s loss to VCU.
“He’s really played terrific,” Martelli said of Miles. “He’ll be in there beating himself over missing two foul shots. But I think there’s more to come.”
Despite the tough loss, Miles was a sight to behold Tuesday at Hagan Arena. He shot a blistering 11 for 14 from the field and 4 for 6 from three-point range and buried consecutive three-pointers midway through the second half, prompting one fan to do the we’re-not-worthy bow from Wayne’s World.
The Rams were probably surprised by the offensive outburst. When St. Joe’s faced VCU last season, Miles scored a modest 12 points in 24 minutes. The season before that, he played four total minutes in two games against VCU, including zero in the A-10 championship.
“I’m happy for him,” Bembry said. “I know during his freshman and sophomore year, he didn’t play that much. And last year it was a new role for him to start. It’s definitely a big year for him to drop in the numbers that he has. The team’s happy for him and we hope he keeps doing it the rest of the year.”
Miles admitted that averaging only 5.1 minutes per game as a freshman and 9.3 minutes as a sophomore wasn’t easy, especially after being the “No. 1 option in high school.” But at the same time, he enjoyed being a part of the 2013-14 team that stormed to the NCAA Tournament while absorbing information from Kanacevic, Roberts and Galloway, the three star seniors on that squad.
“They told me a lot,” Miles said, adding that he still often plays PlayStation with Galloway, who’s now plying his trade in the NBA with the New York Knicks. “They told me to stay aggressive, to stay in shape. This is a fast game and it’s a good league. Just being aggressive and staying confident is what they’ve been telling me and I’ve been sticking to it. And it’s been paying off well for me.”
There was one play late in Tuesday’s game when Miles really showed his aggressiveness. With the Hawks clinging to a tenuous lead in the final three minutes, Miles followed up one of his rare misses, dove on the ground to collect the loose ball and fed James Demery, who was fouled.
It was a play Martelli immediately brought up when asked about Miles in the postgame press conference. And it was one that, perhaps more than anything else, shows how bad the St. Joe’s senior wants this — all of this — after patiently waiting for his turn.
“Some guys, they sit for two or three years and their minds are messed up,” Miles said. “They get depressed and stuff. I just stayed confident and I stayed patient. And I knew when my opportunity came, I was going to shine.”