(This article was originally posted Feb. 24, 2023)
The sophomore sharpshooter nearly left LPC for a bigger role, but stayed and became the leader he envisioned
Isaiah Victor walked the length of the court, his Hawks 11.6 seconds from victory, and stepped to the free throw line with his eyes focused on his feet.
He lifted his head to practice his shooting stroke with no ball, trying to remember his form — that’s when he realized the other players lined up around the paint were gone. A Diablo Valley player fouled out, giving the visiting Vikings 30 seconds to make a substitution. So Victor stood at the free throw line. Alone.
At that point, he had missed five of his eight free throw attempts, including his last two, giving enough reason for doubt to enter. But this is what he wished for. This is what he wanted. He didn’t transfer because he was told he’d get these moments. He had to deliver now.
He wiped the sweat from his face with his white home jersey, adjusted his shorts, relying on routine to work out the nerves. As the other players gathered back around the lane for the free throws, Victor went through one last shooting motion before receiving the ball from the referee. He inhaled deeply. The weight of his teammates’ hopes were on his shoulders, in his hands.
“At that moment in time, I really want Isaiah at the line,” LPC men’s basketball coach James Giacomazzi said.
“I think you can almost throw percentages out the window a lot of the time late in the game…We had the ball in the right guy’s hands at the right time. It didn’t surprise me when he made them.”
Both free throws were pure, too. Victor didn’t come close to missing.
His free throws did more than just secure the 84-79 win over Diablo Valley College. They proved his accountability. They validated his dependability. Those two clutch shots showcased, to his teammates and to himself, the value of his dedication, and the relentless commitment to being the go-to star for his team. Victor made sure the Hawks lived to fly another day.
Little would anyone know Victor sat on the bench his first season. In 2022, the Hawks saw great success, finishing 27-3 and landing a top-eight team spot. But Victor averaged just 7.4 points per game as a sixth man off the bench.
That season ended with disappointment. The Hawks made it to the state tournament, and Victor finally got some more playing time. But they lost their first game to West Los Angeles. Victor felt he had more to give. To the game. To a team.
That loss was the “lowest of lows” for Victor.
In his mind, he should’ve been on the floor more. He should have had the ball in his hands more. It was an empty feeling, knowing they lost and he still had more to give.
“Of course,” he said, “I felt like I was the best player out there. As a hooper, you have to have the mentality of being the best. Even if I’m not on the court, I think I was the best player.”
If he couldn’t be that at Las Positas, he may as well leave. He was going to transfer. Somewhere. Go somewhere else where things would be easy.
The day after the elimination, Giacomazzi called him and reaffirmed Victor that he was their guy. It was his time.
“As soon as we lost in the elite eight, he called me,” Victor said. “Reassured me and kept up with me every day since then.”
Ultimately, he decided to stay with Las Positas. Here, he was assured more minutes, more shots, more responsibility. It was time to take charge of his team.
He has to keep delivering. Every shot, every decision, could make the difference in Las Positas getting back to the state tournament. Now, as the Hawks head out on the road to face No. 4 Yuba College, they need him more than ever.
“Having the trust of my team,” Victor said, “means the world.”
Victor took it seriously. Every day in the off-season, he worked on his craft. Spending countless hours in the gym, meditating to strengthen his mind, reflecting on what kind of leader he wanted to be. This was the dedication and determination that would come in clutch for Las Positas. They’d need every ounce.
For his sophomore season, hardship came almost immediately.
“So if you want to go back,” Giacomazzi said, “we had lost three guards the week before school started — one of them at 8:30 p.m. the night before school started — that were starters on last year’s team. They got scholarships and that’s what we’re about — we want to get our guys’ scholarships. But I didn’t know they’d be going so late. And so when you lose three guards that you are counting on, it makes it a little bit of a challenge because of our depth. So these guys were asked to do even more than what I anticipated them to do.”
Victor went from not playing enough to barely being able to come out of the game due to a lack of players in the rotation. It only got worse after the incident at Foothill College.
A fight broke out involving players, faculty and fans. Spectators would be banned from the next four Hawks home games. Freshman guard CJ Ward and sophomore guard Jaden Phillips were suspended. Ward has been allowed to play in the playoffs, but Phillips is permanently suspended.
Phillips was a key guard, starting 15 of 20 regular season games. He averaged 13.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 20 regular season games and led in a three-point field goal percentage (42.2).
“I feel like it did affect us,” he said about losing Jaden Phillips. “We had to adjust to it…So now without him, we continue to adjust.”
The Hawks lost 3 of their final five games, all without fans, and finished the season 17-11. That didn’t help their seeding — No. 13 out of 24 teams in the NorCal Regional bracket.
All these challenges and hurdles in the way of Las Positas became part of Victor’s responsibility. Would he rise and step over them? Or would he crumble? That’s a question he faces every situation and every game with this team.
He finished the regular season averaging 16.4 points — more than double his average from the previous season — and ranked 14th for the most three-pointers in the state. Then, in the biggest game of the season, the first-round playoff matchup against Diablo Valley, he scored 30 points.
He’ll need another big game on Saturday. Yuba College is 26-2 this season after going 11-0 in conference games. They’ll be big-time favorites as one of the best teams in the state. The 49ers are a physical team who scores a lot of points and makes it tough to catch up once behind.
Three years ago, Las Positas visited Yuba in the first round of the playoffs and were beat handily. But that was a completely different roster.
“It’ll be a hostile environment,” Giacomazzi said. “They have a great crowd. A lot of local support for that team. So it’s gonna be interesting to see how we respond. I don’t know if we’ve been to a game yet where we walked in and it’s like everybody’s yelling at you, and telling you all kinds of things.”
This environment and stakes motivate Victor. He wants to be more physical and put himself in positions to score. He’ll have to make shots, create shots and defend at a high level. And he may not come out of the game, so he’ll have to power through fatigue.
“It’s going to be a great matchup for us. We are the underdogs, expected to lose. It’s our game to play,” Victor said.
He never seemed more ready for the task of leading the Hawks than in the win over Diablo Valley.
After the Vikings’ final shot missed on Wednesday, and the buzzer sounded, Victor immediately flexed and let out a thunderous roar. Then another. Then another.
This is what he said he was ready for. This is what he wanted.
“I’m a lion,” Victor said. “A lion resting was me in the season. But it’s playoff’ and I’m amplified. Dominant…There’s very little you can do to keep the lion from what he wants.”
C.J. Flores is a freelance writer for Express. He was the former editor-in-chief. Follow him @Cj_mcanfores.