PHILADELPHIA– When La Salle head coach Ashley Howard arrived on the campus of La Salle University last spring, it was widely regarded to be a Home Run hire for the school.
He brought a winning pedigree from his five years as an assistant coach at Villanova, winning two out of the previous three NCAA national championships, and had a calm and cool demeanor similar to the man one position above him at Villanova, Jay Wright.
It’s hard to see an effect like that take place in a first season as a head coach of a program, but if there is one player in particular that Howard has had an influence on bringing out the best in, it would be La Salle guard Isiah Deas, who Howard says is one of the best talents he’s ever coached (and that’s saying something considering he’s coached eight current and former NBA players at Villanova).
“I tell Isiah all the time “‘You’re as talented of a player as I’ve ever coached,” Howard said. “If you ever learn to apply yourself all the time, you can be really good.'”
Recruited as a two-star prospect by former La Salle head coach John Giannini, Deas brings a versatile scoring threat to the Explorers offense, but the numbers weren’t quite there in his first two seasons.
In his freshman year, Deas only averaged 9.9 minutes per game and only averaged 3.2 points per game. The following season saw Deas’ minutes jump to 24.4 per game and his points went up to 9.5 per game, but he wasn’t shooting the ball well either.
In both his freshman and sophomore season, Deas shot 29 percent from deep. But something changed this season as he’s shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc.
A shot of confidence would do the trick.
Anyone that has watched him over the past three seasons can tell he’s shooting the ball with a ton of confidence, potentially a factor as to why his shot attempts per game are at a career-high (11.2).
“Coach gave me a lot of confidence since the summertime,” Deas said. “Just working on my shot everyday and just putting the shots up so now once I’m open and I feel like I can knock them down, I take it.”
As of February 28, Deas has set a career-high in averages including: minutes per game (26.4), points per game (12.4), shooting percentage (37 percent), three-pointers made per game (2.4), three-pointers attempted per game (6.1), three-point percentage (37 percent), and free throw percentage (74 percent).
It’s been a tough process, but Deas is getting to the point where he’s starting to apply himself during the games and most importantly, during practice and film sessions, and the results on the court show.
“I think bringing it everyday is something he’s improved on the most,” Howard said. “He’s bringing it everyday, understanding how to bring it everyday, how to practice hard everyday because he’s a guy whose effort has been inconsistent.”
Effort isn’t the only thing that has been inconsistent for Deas during his time at La Salle. His play, especially last year was extremely inconstant.
Deas posted what was at the time career-high in points against Bucknell last season with 24 points in 32 minutes. The next game against Saint Louis? Just four points in 34 minutes.
In 11 of the past 14 games, Deas has posted point totals that have hit double-digits and if his confidence wasn’t going up enough this season, surely a career-high 25 point performance in a victory against one of the top teams in the A-10 in Davidson has to have a positive impact on his mentality.
“He’s buying into it, but it’s habits,” Howard said. “It’s creating habits everyday and we all know that it’s hard to formulate those habits, you have to go through it and he’s done a great job of sticking with that mindset and it’s good to see it pay off for him in a game like today.”
After spending two seasons trying to grasp and adjust to the college game and the lifestyle that comes with being a Division I college basketball player, it seems like this is the season Deas finally “gets it”.
“I take pride in being the lead by example type of guy,” Deas said. “Just being into the scouting report, just knowing where everybody is going to be at so I feel like once I locked into that area, I think everything else took care of itself.”
As the teams’ second leading scorer, Deas has made a giant leap in his progression as a player this season, something that was heavily influenced by the change in his mentality.
“It’s all about confidence at the end of the day,” Deas said. “When you got coaching staff giving you confidence and your teammates giving you confidence, it’s just a beautiful thing and you just go out there and play your brand of basketball with your brothers.”