Isaac Copeland was in the seventh grade when his parents told him that he couldn’t play basketball because of sub-par grades.
Copeland wasn’t failing any classes — nothing like that.
But Copeland’s parents thought he was easing off the gas pedal a tad too much.
“My grades weren’t where they were supposed to be,” Copeland recalled. “They weren’t really bad, but they felt like I wasn’t reaching their expectations. They made me sit out for like two weeks.
“That really showed me that academics are important.”
And that will be one of the biggest things that the Virginia basketball coaching staff will be trying to sell to Copeland, a 6-foot-9 junior at the Miller School in Albemarle County.
The only problem? Georgetown, North Carolina, Duke and a host of others figure to be making similar pitches.
Copeland, whom Miller coach Scott Willard says reminds him of NBA players Rudy Gay and Andre Iguodala, is a rapidly ascending prospect in the 2014 recruiting class.
Virginia was one of the first high-major schools to offer Copeland a scholarship, doing so after this past summer’s Elite Camp. Since then, Copeland has seen his stock soar, though he still hasn’t received an offer from North Carolina.
Copeland told The Daily Progress last week that Georgetown and Florida State rank highest on his list, but conceded he was still very early in the process.
Virginia will certainly have its work cut out in landing Copeland. The Raleigh, N.C., native has all kinds of connections to the Triangle. Copeland’s mother, Sonya Harris, is a former UNC cheerleader who works at N.C. State.
Copeland, funny enough, has always liked Duke. As a kid, J.J. Redick was his favorite player.
“At first, it started out as something just to get on my mom’s nerves,” said a smiling Copeland, when asked how he came to like the Blue Devils, “but after a while I realized they were a great program and I just became a fan.”
Virginia, of course, has at least one major recruiting advantage: its proximity to the Miller School. Coach Tony Bennett and staff can just cruise on over to see Copeland play whenever they want.
But on the flip side, UNC, N.C. State and Duke get great access to Copeland when he returns home from boarding school. Copeland even works out at N.C. State on occasion.
So far, Virginia has really put the time in on Copeland, a junior who reclassified this season after playing his first three years at Ravenscroft High in Raleigh.
“They’ve certainly been recruiting him hard from the get-go,” Willard said. “From the moment he stepped on campus, they have been to practices, have traveled to games and have communicated with him and his parents.
“You have to admire how hard they are recruiting him because he’s a true student-athlete. He would be a great fit for a UVa-type school where they balance both athletics and academics.”
Copeland says he has “strong” interest in UVa and is planning on visiting the school with his parents in the coming months.
“I talk to them a lot,” he said. “Coach Bennett came to my game [last week against Covenant].
“I know they have great academics, of course, and a very good business school and great basketball facilities.”
Copeland’s father, Ike — who helped lead East Carolina to its second-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in the 1993 — will be a chief sounding board in the decision-making process.
“I think the key for me, being a [former] ballplayer, is what kind of offense does [Virginia] run and how does [Bennett] see him being utilized?” the elder Copeland said. “I mean, he’s kind of a different [player]. He needs to play the 3 or a true face-up four, like a four-out, one in kind of deal. So whatever system he goes into, it’s got to work out that way for him to be successful.”
Willard, who used to train NBA Draft prospects in Las Vegas before coming to Miller, believes Copeland compares favorably to Gay and Iguodala.
“A lot of the tools that they had at 6-9, 6-10, from a wing position, were real similar to the gifts that Isaac has been given at 6-9 — with length, athletic ability and determination to work your butt off and be really good,” he said.
Copeland has grown roughly nine inches in the last three years. As a freshman, he was only 6 feet tall. Last year, he fractured the growth plate in his knee and missed most of the season before deciding to reclassify and attend Miller.
“I was going to graduate at 17 and I didn’t really want to do that because I wouldn’t have been as mature as some guys in college,” Copeland said. “I wanted to come here and get that year back and get more physically ready for college.”
Willard has been playing Copeland exclusively on the wing.
“Sometimes when you have a growth spurt, you lose some of your athletic ability and touch, given that you’re longer and lankier,” he said, “but he picked up right where he left off.”
Miller forward Aram Martin says Copeland’s competitiveness and versatility make him special.
“He’s 6-9 and he defends like he’s 6-4 — he’s in you,” Martin said. “He plays offensively like a guard, but he can rebound, he can post up. He’s definitely playing after college.”
Just a couple weeks ago, UNC coach Roy Williams made the trip to see Copeland in action at the Fishburne Military School tournament in Waynesboro. Around campus, though, Willard says Copeland is never one to brag about stuff like that.
“He’s a quiet kid who enjoys his teammates, enjoys his teachers,” Willard said.
Ike Copeland says that when it comes time to make a college decision, Isaac will rely, in part, on a “matrix” that the family created. The Excel spreadsheet ranks all of the schools according to criteria that the Copelands have deemed most important. The matrix grades a school’s academics, coaching staff, program stability and basketball reputation.
Of course, there will be a human element to the process, too.
“As parents, we’re looking at the coaching staff and the kids he’s going to be around that are going to kind of mold him,” Ike Copeland said, “and make sure that they’re good positive role models.”
Isaac says he’s thankful for all the lessons he received from his parents at a young age — especially the ones emphasizing academics.
“My AAU team growing up always had a motto of, ‘No books, no ball,’” he said. “My parents kind of took that and went with it.”
The Copeland file
Hometown: Raleigh, N.C.
Favorite NBA player: Kevin Durant
Favorite video game: 2K and Call of Duty.
Best dunk ever: “The one [against Covenant] is up there.”
If you could meet one celebrity: Michael Jordan.
Biggest influence: “My family, my parents. They’ve gotten me through everything.”
Favorite movie: “Space Jam.”
One thing people don’t know: “I’m pretty outgoing. People may think I hang out only with basketball players, but I hang out pretty much with everybody.”