IOWA CITY — When Iowa’s recruiting class of 2015 arrived on campus, the guy who came in with the lowest expectations is the guy who is now a starter.
Isaiah Moss hadn’t exactly been a superstar in high school although he came out of a superstar program at Chicago Simeon. He didn’t come to Iowa City the summer before his freshman year like the other four recruits because he had academic obligations to fulfill. He was behind from the very beginning.
He's caught up. He kept working while redshirting as a freshman. He kept going to the weight room, kept working on his ballhandling, kept refining his shooting mechanics.
Six games into Moss' redshirt freshman season, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery decided to try the 6-foot-5 guard in the starting lineup in a challenging road game at Notre Dame. He looked a bit uncertain and uncomfortable in that game and in the following game against Omaha.
In the two games since then, he has been tremendous. He scored a career-high 21 points in a victory over Stetson, then made some of the biggest plays in the final minutes while scoring 14 points in an upset of Iowa State. That brought him Big Ten freshman of the week honors and Moss now seems entrenched as a starter for the remainder of the season, possibly for the next 3½ seasons.
“He's got unlimited potential because very few people that are that quick and athletic have that kind of stroke …’’ McCaffery said Wednesday. “When you look at him down the road, once he settles down and really just trusts his own talent and kind of develops that same exact mindset that Pete (Jok) has ... That's a valuable offensive weapon.’’
The soft-spoken Moss readily admits that what he really lacked was confidence when he got his chance to start.
“I’ve just gotten more and more comfortable,’’ he said. “I’m just going out and playing hard. My teammates really give me a lot of motivation, too.’’
His teammates are the only ones who don’t seem shocked that someone who appeared to be only the fourth or fifth best player on his high school team has become a Big Ten starter within two years.
“People are going to say ‘Where has this Isaiah Moss been?’ But that’s the way he is in practice all the time,’’ freshman Cordell Pemsl said after the Iowa State game.
“Nothing he has done has surprised me at all,’’ sophomore forward Nicholas Baer added. “The thing I’m really proud of him for is he’s been aggressive and that’s what we need him to be. He’s had some really good finishes the other night against Iowa State and when you’ve got a guy who can catch and shoot and rip and drive … when he’s aggressive, when he’s going downhill, he’s tough to stop.’’
McCaffery said he and his staff had their eye on Moss back when he was a sophomore at Lincoln-Way East High School in the southern suburbs of Chicago.
Moss’ family then moved into the city and he enrolled at Simeon High School, a Chicago Public League powerhouse that has produced such players as Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker. As McCaffery noted, in some years Simeon produces a half dozen Division I recruits.
The move probably helped Moss get seen by more scouts but what they mostly saw him do in his junior year at Simeon was hold down the bench.
Even as a senior, he wasn’t one of the marquee stars on a team that also included Ed Morrow, now a starter at Nebraska; D.J. Williams, who comes off the bench for Illinois; and Zach Norvell, who is redshirting this season at Gonzaga.
“There was just so many people around me who could play so well,’’ Moss said.
But McCaffery saw enough of Moss with the Mac Irvin Fire AAU team to see the potential.
The Hawkeyes actually were recruiting Morrow more heavily, but when they went to watch him play, they couldn’t take their eyes off the Moss kid.
“Two times in a row we went down there and he was the best player on the court,’’ McCaffery said.
Not being in Iowa City for the summer of 2015 was a setback, but Moss took advantage of the redshirt year to vastly improve his game.
“I definitely got stronger,’’ he said. “My ballhandling got better. I got more aggressive.’’