TUALATIN, Ore. — When Dela Stewart talks, Isaiah listens because his father has a lot to say.
The 62-year-old native of Jamaica has spent nearly the past two decades preparing his youngest son for this seminal moment when he goes off to college.
“I raised him strict,” Dela said. “Very strict. Teach him how to have manners and respect. Go to school, come home and don’t run no streets.”
Admittedly, Dela, who lives in Rochester, N.Y., is nervous about Isaiah moving so far away from home, and pegged to be one of the next big stars in college basketball with the Washington Huskies.
“I tell him, ‘Remember what Daddy told you,’ ” Dela said. “You don’t need to run with no bad people. All you need to run with is good people. You don’t need to jump in no car and ride with nobody. Stay away from bad people.”
“I tell them what my dad always say,” Dela said. “You see a man’s face, but you don’t see his heart. You see a man’s face smiling, but his heart may not look like that. So you got to be careful of your surroundings and your friends and what you’re doing. I teach them right.”
And there’s this.
“I try to protect him from vampires,” Dela said, smiling. “Vampire means people who try to bring you down. People who don’t want to see you do good. I tell him, keep vampires out of your life.”
Isaiah listened to every word, but it wasn’t his dad’s advice that influenced him the most.
Dela’s journey from a hardscrabble upbringing in Jamaica to migrant farming in Florida and working construction in upstate New York has given Isaiah all the inspiration he needs.
“I’m a hard worker, and I got that from my dad,” Stewart said. “I see him coming home from work every day doing construction or whatever he was doing at the time, and it motivated me to hopefully one day help him have a better life.
“Hopefully he can retire from work and stop working, but knowing him that’s never going to happen. My dad, he’s not a handout person. He’s a go-getter. That’s just the way he is, and that’s what he instilled in me.”
• • •
Dela’s father was a fisherman and farmer in Jamaica. He was a tall man, about 6 feet 9, said Dela who is 6-3.
“That’s where (Isaiah) gets his height,” Dela said smiling. “I never played basketball. We played cricket when we had time. But mostly, we worked doing anything we could to make money.”
In his early 20s, Dela left his home in the Caribbean for Florida, where he found seasonal work picking sugar cane, oranges and tobacco.
He moved to upstate New York in his 40s and met Shemeka Holloway and had two kids — Martin, 19, and Isaiah, who turns 18 on Wednesday. The winters were brutally cold, but Dela found steady employment working construction jobs, which enabled him to raise his two boys as a single father.
“Even when I was little, I could see he was just making things happen,” Isaiah said. “Just putting food on the table. When the fridge was empty, just like that he made sure food was in the fridge and a roof over our heads for my brother and I. Whatever he’s got to do he’s going to do it for my brother and I to make sure we’re straight.
“I thank my dad every day. I tell him he’s the reason why I work so hard. It’s just him. He listens. He prays for me. He calls me and asks me, ‘Are you working? What are you doing?’ He always tells to continue to work hard no matter what.”
• • •
If you’ve never seen Isaiah Stewart play basketball, here’s what you need to know: The kid works harder than anyone else on the court.
That’s the take-away from the NBA scouts and front-office executives who crammed inside the Portland Trail Blazers’ practice facility last month to watch Team USA practice before the Nike Hoops Summit.
At 6-9 and 248 pounds, Stewart already looks like an NBA forward because of his broad, chiseled shoulders and ridiculous 7-4 wingspan.
While sharing the frontcourt with Memphis-bound forward James Wiseman, Stewart seemingly collected every rebound and loose ball while displaying a soft shooting touch and nimble footwork around the basket.
“I’ve gotten to know Isaiah not only this week but also playing in (the McDonald’s All-American game), and that guy brings it every time,” said Cole Anthony, who is headed to North Carolina. “He’s a beast. He don’t stop. That kid can run for days.”
Wiseman is the No. 1 prospect on Rivals’ final 2019 national rankings, followed by Stewart at No. 2.
It’s the highest ranking for a UW recruit, surpassing Markelle Fultz, who was ranked No. 5 by Rivals in 2016.
“We had (Isaiah) at No. 5 in our previous ranking, and it’s been a steady climb for him,” Rivals analyst Eric Bossi said. “He’s one of those guys that I don’t think will leave any stone unturned in becoming the best basketball player that he can be. There’s never been a second when you walked away and thought, ‘Yeah he’s good, but he doesn’t play hard.’”
• • •
Stewart’s prep basketball career began at McQuaid Jesuit High in Rochester, N.Y., where he jumped on the national recruiting radar as a freshman after scoring 40 points in a game.
He missed his sophomore year after breaking his tailbone while auditioning for the U.S. U-16 team in the summer of 2016.
The next year, Stewart transferred to La Lumiere, a boarding school in La Porte, Ind., where he averaged 19.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.4 blocks as a junior while guiding the Lakers to a 25-4 record and a fifth seed into the GEICO High School Nationals.
With Stewart averaging 19.5 and 12.0 rebounds as a senior, La Lumiere was 30-1 and was runner-up in the high-school nationals.
“I played soccer, and I was into boxing before I started playing basketball serious in the fifth grade,” said Stewart, who won the Naismith High School Player of the Year award. “Ever since I picked up a basketball it intrigued me. I started working hard at it in middle school.
“I’m a competitive dude. I just love the game. I have a strong passion for it. … When I started dunking on a 10-foot hoop, I was like, ‘Hey, I like this. This is fun.’ That was when I was 12 years old.”
Tennessee offered Stewart his first scholarship as a freshman, and soon after he drew interest from every major program in the country.
That’s when Stewart met Washington coach Mike Hopkins, who was an assistant at Syracuse. They bonded over basketball, and Stewart found someone who could match his nonstop motor.
“I’m a different dude from the other kids in my class,” said Stewart, who chose UW over Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky and Syracuse. “I don’t get caught up in the blue-blood stuff. I’m a loyal dude.
“I’m about relationships. That’s just how I am and how I was raised. You can’t trick or fool me. At the end of the day I’m going to go with what’s best for me.”
• • •
Washington loses most of its stars from last season’s 27-9 team that won the Pac-12 title and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Sophomore star Jaylen Nowell, the Pac-12 Player of Year, has entered the NBA draft, and the departures of three senior starters will force the Huskies to rebuild around a young nucleus that includes Stewart, sophomore guard Nahziah Carter and Kentucky transfer Quade Green.
“If we don’t get who we want to get, then we have to move on,” Stewart said referring to five-star prospect Jaden McDaniels, who is UW’s top recruiting target. “But regardless, we’re going to have to be some dogs. I feel like they’re going to feed off me. They’re going to see that I’m about business when I’m in the gym. I don’t play around.
“I know I’m going to be a freshman, but I have people who are 30-year-olds with four kids that look up to me. So it’s not intimidating for me to call people out. I plan on going in there and being that dog. They’re definitely going to feel that, and they’re going to take some of that dog away from me and we’re going to get after it.”
That’s Isaiah talking, but those are Dela’s words.
It’s what he’s told his son for years.
“He takes it from me,” Dela said. “He works hard. I love him for that, and I’m so proud of him. I’ve told him, ‘You got to work hard for what you want. You ain’t going to get nothing handed to you for free, that’s for sure.’
“You got to put your mind to what you want. You work, you work, you work. Don’t let nobody outwork you.”