Jonathan Isaac, Wesley Iwundu grew to become NBA players

Mar 18, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles forward Jonathan Isaac (1) during the first half in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 18, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles forward Jonathan Isaac (1) during the first half in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Jonathan Isaac and Wesley Iwundu had their doubters and likely doubted themselves on their way to the NBA. They are here and ready for the next challenge.

Jonathan Isaac said he did not believe his doctor when he said Isaac’s growth plate had expanded and he could someday tower near 7-feet tall. At that time, Isaac, who grew up in Southwest Florida, was a smallish guard who just enjoyed shooting and running for his freshman team.

He played well at Naples (Fla.) Barron Collier his freshman year, but struggled to fit in his sophomore year. The NBA was a dream. But he said he almost gave up basketball after struggling his sophomore year.

Suddenly the guard sprouted, turning into a 6-foot-10 athlete. He did not really know he would even make it to the NBA until he participated in a tournament after his senior year at IMG.

That is when he, a five-star prospect, the top prospect in Florida and eighth best player in the country according to 247Sports, believed he might be able to hang with the surefire NBA prospect that would join him in college soon.

"“I never thought it would get to this point,” Isaac said during his introductory press conference Friday. “I thought I would be one of those players who was tall for nothing. Now I’m here and being tall has expanded my game.”"

The path for Isaac, despite eventually getting taken with the sixth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, was not straightforward.

The criticism on Isaac during his time with the Florida State Seminoles was that he was too passive. He was too uninvolved in the offense. Perhaps that had to do with veteran players like Dwayne Bacon on the roster or coach Leonard Hamilton’s more strict offensive system. Isaac still averaged 12.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.

Still, the questions lingered and remained to the point fans were at least somewhat upset the team took a player billed as a project.

The Magic’s second round pick, Wesley Iwundu, faced a similar long road with the Kansas State Wildcats.

The 6-foot-7 forward from Houston, Texas, came off the bench his first game for Kansas State in 2014 against the Northern Colorado Bears, and scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. He did not come off the bench for the rest of his four-year career.

But his collegiate career was far from easy or certain. He played a supporting role his first two years before taking on a larger scoring role his final two years. He finished his senior year averaging just 13.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. For his career, he averaged less than 10.0 points per game.

With numbers like that, it would seem the NBA would have been a far-fetched dream. Especially considering he spent four years in college and his upside, the magic word during the draft, seemed limited.

Iwundu impressed in two workouts with the Magic — and reportedly throughout the league. He quickly climbed into the second round and seemed like a solid, versatile role player.

Iwundu, in other words, clawed his way into the league on sheer effort.

"“It’s just always been using the underdog mentality,” Iwundu said during Friday’s press conference. “Ever since I came to college, I have been putting in the work, putting in the effort to give myself a chance to start after that first game. Coming in with that mentality, I’ve been carrying that up until now. That will continue. I think fitting with the Magic, bringing that to the team, ready to do some things, get down on defense, just bring the pressure and help guys get better each and every day. That’s what I expect to do.”"

That is not to say there will not be work ahead. No one expects either player to be a finished product.

Coach Frank Vogel said he plans to bring Isaac along somewhat slowly. They want to make sure they give him as much as he can handle and then grow his role as he grows in the NBA. This first year might see him repeat some of the passiveness he showed at Florida State, where he fit in successfully as a role player for a NCAA Tournament team.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Iwundu too has to prove he can shoot the ball consistently too. He made just 37.6 percent of his 3-pointers last year, the only year he took more than 1.0 3-pointers per game. He shot 33.8 percent from beyond the arc for his career.

Both Iwundu and Isaac fit the characteristics the Magic are looking for defensively for sure. But questions still remain.

The fact these players have overcome those questions to get to this point is part of the reason the team was attracted to them in the end. It says a lot more about them as people and the Magic’s belief they will continue to grow.

"“It all comes down to one thing, we’re not drafting a player, we’re drafting a person,” Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman told Orlando Magic Daily. “We look for the qualities in a person that will translate into any field. These guys have work ethic, they have integrity, they have teamsmanship. They have all the traits that we are looking for. We believe they will reach their potential just because of who they are as people. It’s up to us to assess what their potentials are. We think they are great.”"

The NBA will be one more challenge for these young players to overcome. It represents one more challenge to their growth and potential. It is another challenge to defeat and another expectation to surpass.

Just like they have done throughout their early basketball careers. They have had to defeat their own doubts and other’s doubts. And many of those doubts still remain.

Next: Orlando Magic draft Jonathan Isaac with No. 6 pick

Isaac is no longer the bouncy kid with no NBA future. He is one of the faces of the Magic’s franchise. His dreams have become a reality.