Hawks senior Isaiah Miles is soaring this season

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Isaiah Miles passes to an open teammate after winning a scramble for a loose ball in Tuesday's game against VCU. ( Charles Fox / Staff Photographer )

SAINT JOSEPH'S coach Phil Martelli got a call from Eric Miles the summer before the 2014-15 season, wanting to know whether he could come up from his Owings Mills, Md., home to watch an individual workout.

"He sits down with me after the workout and said, 'I got a little bit of a problem,'" Martelli remembered.

The coach's antenna went up. Miles' son, Isaiah, had played two seasons for the Hawks, scoring 27 points in 61 minutes as a freshman, 84 points in 260 minutes for the 2014 Atlantic 10 champions.

"He said, 'I think you're too easy on him, I need you to lean on him, I need you to bust him,'" Martelli recalled. "You don't hear that from many dads where they say you're not hard enough on them."

Eric and Tammi Miles met at Parkville High in the northern Baltimore suburbs. They have a daughter, a Coppin State graduate, and a son, Isaiah "Zeke" Miles, a Saint Joseph's senior who had a nice junior season and is having an off-the-charts start to his senior season.

Zeke is a criminal justice major, and why wouldn't he be?

"I locked 'em up and (Eric) kept 'em locked up," Tammi said with a laugh.

She has been in federal law enforcement for 30 years, the Office of Inspector General, dealing with Medicare fraud and white-collar crime. Now retired, Eric worked in corrections. Tammi has four years, three months to go before her retirement.

"We have some really good conversations about criminal justice, especially with things going on in the world today," Tammi said of her son. "I love having those conversations with him."

Eric and Tammi have not missed many of their son's college games, even when he was stuck behind C.J. Aiken, Ron Roberts and Halil Kanacevic on the Hawks' front line. Now, after losing around 20 pounds last summer, he is blowing up, and the parents have been right there for all of it, including the 36-point, 15-rebound, 4-block domination of Virginia Tech on Dec. 22 in Brooklyn.

"It was electric," Eric said. "It was really great. He played like I've been telling him he could play. He's finally starting to believe in himself. He has all the tools."

That was the highlight to a season that has been filled with highlights, including a 31-point, nine-rebound effort in a loss to Virginia Commonwealth earlier this week.

"It's been a dream come true, it's been a blessing," Tammi said. "My son is a good kid, he's a talented young man, it does a mom's heart proud. I don't care if he makes one bucket, a hundred buckets. I'm going to be Team Miles No. 1 fan all day, every day."

The son is averaging 18.3 points and 8.6 rebounds for the 11-3 Hawks, both team bests, entering Sunday's noon home game against Rhode Island. He is shooting 51.5 percent overall, 40.6 percent from the arc and has missed only seven of 63 free throw attempts for a cool 89 percent.

Eric played at Parkville and is just as tall as his 6-7 son. He knew Zeke had more in him before his junior season and more still before his final season.

"He and I went to the gym and I hook-shotted him to death," Eric said. "I told him it was because he was overweight. He's a real competitive kid, he had to beat dad. He worked, got the weight off and is a totally different player."

How different? Miles had zero college dunks until this season.

"When I came off that rim, I was, like, 'Wow,'" Isaiah said of his first college slam. "I don't feel myself getting tired out there."

Miles showed up at St. Joe's weighing 190. He put on the freshman 15, the sophomore 15 and the junior 15 until he got all the way up to 235. The junk food has disappeared. He now plays at 215.

"Watching tape, I saw that I was the last one coming down the court," Isaiah said. "I just needed to change that. This is my senior year, so I wanted no what-ifs."

Father and son still argue about who had more game at the same age. Eric was playing at a community college when he blew out both knees.

"He said he was way more athletic than I am, he could jump out of the gym," Isaiah said. "He gave me the props. saying I'm a way better shooter than him. He said he could handle the ball way better than me. I heard he tore down a few rims. We have those in the basement."

Isaiah might not tear down any rims this season, but he is attacking them. That he is still a plus long-range shooter makes him a very tough cover because of his versatility.

Eric said his son started playing ball when he was 8. He coached him at different levels. He was not planning to be his eighth-grade coach, but the coach quit so he took over.

"I was the scorekeeper," Tammi said.

Now, they are the fans in the stands at Hagan Arena and just about every venue SJU plays.

"There is a sense of urgency that, when he was younger, he didn't have," Martelli said.

Isaiah Miles has that sense now. He also has the game. And two parents who are as thrilled watching him perform this way as he is playing better than he ever has in his life.

jerardd@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @DickJerardi

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