Look at Izzy Helman’s scoring numbers over his last four games, and the natural reaction is to imagine that the Claremont Spartans’ point guard has somehow shifted his game to yet another gear.
In-between dual 37 point outings in tough losses to first Mark Isfeld, and then Brentwood College, the 6-foot-3 senior poured home 35 and 41 points respectively in back-to-back wins over Nanaimo District and Belmont.
Yet ask the soft-spoken Helman, whose team hosts the Oak Bay Bays in a huge capital-city rivalry game Thursday (7:30 p.m.), about that recent surge, or about his season averages of 28.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game, and he’ll tell you that his success has come from learning to slow things down instead of always looking to speed them up.
“Right now, I am trying to have good pace in my game,” he begins, revealing the importance he has begun to place on the cerebral side of the game.
“You know, like Luka Dončić,” he says of the Dallas Mavericks’ star who has been referred to as the NBA’s fastest slow guy. “I am trying to control my pace… not play full speed all the time. Changing pace is really important for me to blow by defenders.”
Put another way, change of pace in basketball is a lot like the silence between the notes of a musical score because their shared net effect is dynamism.
Helman is quick to thank former Victoria Vikes player Chris Marsh, now his basketball skills trainer, for introducing him to a varied regimen for on- and off-court success. Marsh played for Victoria in the early-to-mid 2000s as part of a team which included standout guard Chris Trumpy.
Couple that side of the equation with Helman’s intense work ethic, and it’s no wonder Claremont head coach Brandon Dunlop has been able to deploy Helman in a multitude of roles within the Spartans’ 2021-22 schematic.
“Izzy is one of those multi-dimensional players who often times is guarding the opponents best player, and then on offence, when he needs to distribute it, he can,” explains Dunlop, himself a former Vikes guard. “His three-point shot is unlike anything I have seen, and he’s even grown a few inches, so we’ve even drawn up plays to get him inside. He’s one of the best rebounding guards in the province, and one of the best in B.C. at being able to do everything.”
That rebounding game of Helman’s — he finished an assist shy of triple-double against Belmont with 41 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists, then grabbed 18 rebounds against Brentwood College — has played well in the front court alongside 6-foot-7 Grade 11 forward Camden Sparkes as part of a Spartans’ team not blessed with a lot of height.
And in the backcourt, he’s forged solid partnerships with the likes Grade 11 Mikah Smith, and Grade 10 Luke Neary as the team attempts to make up for the big loss of Grade 11 guard Arjun Sangha to a torn ACL and meniscus.
Helman, whose older brother Noah plays in the PacWest with the hometown Camosun Chargers, is a true gym rat in all of the ways that define a high school basketball junkie.
You can set your alarm to the kid, because as Dunlop says laughing, he’s just never able to get to school in the mornings before his point guard.
“I am here early every morning, at 7:15 (a.m.), but he is always already there,” Dunlop begins. “I see his car in the parking lot.”
And yes, he burns the candle deep at the other end as well, quick to offer the same kinds of stories that the most dedicated of players have shared over the generations.
“I am friends with all of the janitors, and there’s even one who always just lets me stay,” Helman says of taking full advantage of the benefits of his late-evening workouts, even offering up the name of that most accommodating of custodians, who shall remain nameless.
“But sometimes, when I’ve been there, and it’s getting past 10 o’clock, some of them have just told me to leave.”
Getting kicked out of a gym for practicing too much?
Alas, it’s a badge of honour for every high school basketball player.
Yet as Dunlop well remembers, Helman has always had what he calls “that killer instinct” on the court.
“I think it was back when Izzy was in Grade 9,” remembers Dunlop, who that season was coaching the Claremont JV against a St. Michaels University School squad on which Helman was a star member.
“It was the first quarter, and I remember having to call a time-out, and the whole time-out was about how to stop Izzy,” continued Dunlop, who was surprised, he says, when he walked into the basketball class he teaches at Claremont the next season to see the Grade 10 Helman as one of his new students.
“You could imagine my excitement,” added Dunlop.
Now, like his coach before him, Helman says he, too, will play for the Vikes next season if nothing changes with his plans to get an education in Canada.
Until then, he’ll continue to answer to his alarm’s clock’s 6 a.m. wake-up call, beat his coach to school, and put up 500 three-point shots before the start of class.
Sounds like a gruelling schedule, yet it’s all a part of the preparation which allows Helman to execute the kind of change-of-pace play that helps get him to where he needs to go on the court.
It was the late, great John Wooden, of course, who once so famously quipped to his players: “…be quick, but don’t hurry,” as a way of best defining that elusive sweet spot between pace and control.
To varying degrees, it’s a pearl of wisdom left to vast personal interpretation.
Yet its spirit does a pretty good job of summing up one young basketball player’s new on-court dictum.
After all, as Izzy Helman says, he’s learned to be quicker by not being in such a hurry.
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