St. Joe's Isaiah Miles drops weight, gains stature on court

St. Joseph's Isaiah Miles (15) is congratulated by teammate Lamar Kimble after sinking a recent three-pointer.

Let's make this clear: The rise of Isaiah Miles on Hawk Hill is the most important Big Five development this season.

Let Miles himself offer a clue as to how it happened.

"Burgers," Miles said Monday before practice, in advance of the game Tuesday against Virginia Commonwealth. "I don't eat burgers any more."

Miles was a helpful player for the St. Joseph's Hawks last season. Now he has been a regular force. Since the Hawks already had a force in DeAndre' Bembry, a two-force team is generally a pretty good one.

That helps explain the 11-2 Hawks, who already have more wins than all of last season, and are getting top-25 votes in the AP poll. After a significant victory Saturday at Richmond, after a 17-point, 16-rebound performance, Miles did a radio interview in which Joe Lunardi asked the pertinent question: "Isaiah, you're putting up monster senior-year numbers here. This is not an exaggeration. When you envisioned your final year on Hawk Hill . . . what did you think of your own prospects heading into this year?"

Miles said, "I wished I would do well, but not this well, you know?"

You never know with seniors. The stereotype of teams full of seniors being best isn't always the case. Sometimes seniors go south, halfway out the door already, or at least they are on cruise control.

Here is what Miles has done: 17.3 points and 8.6 rebounds, up from 10.7 points and 5.1 rebounds as a junior, his first season as a starter. Those 16 rebounds at Richmond were a career high. He had 15 against Virginia Tech, when he also had a career-high 36 points and four blocks.

Miles has scored more than last season's average in every game so far, is second in the A-10 with a 91.1 percent free-throw percentage, is second in rebounds, and ninth in scoring. He also remains a serious three-point threat, making 37.9 percent of his shots.

Miles looks different this season - 20 pounds lighter, he said. Basically, he got tired, he said, of hearing teammates call him "Chubby Boy." In addition to jogging every chance he got, his diet changed.

"I stayed clear away from fast food - that's a huge change," he said.

What does he miss?

"Pizza, burgers, french fries," Miles said. "All that fried food. . . . Bacon cheeseburgers from Wendy's, the old Baconator. Right across the street."

The Wendy's across City Line Avenue from campus was part of the campus meal plan. "In a sense, it was free," Miles said. "Free Baconators whenever you wanted it."

"He was a college eater, plain and simple," said Hawks coach Phil Martelli. "Now, he eats like a guy who wants to play for money."

Now Miles is mostly a fish guy. "All my stuff is basically baked," he said. "I shut it off like that. This is my last year. I didn't want to look back and say I could have been this much better if I'd lost weight."

Early in the season, I asked Hawks teammate James Demery about Miles. He explained him this way: "Most people think he's slow on offense, but he can really move the ball. You can't take it from him. And he's a shooter, a 6-7 shooter. It's hard to block that. He can shoot with a hand in his face and if you give him space he's going to down a majority of them."

Demery's concluding statement: "Isaiah, he's a crafty player."

Miles, from Baltimore, was a pretty big-time recruit. He may have gone to Maryland if Gary Williams hadn't left. Xavier and North Carolina State were in the mix, too. He talked about the patience he needed, especially not playing too much his first two years after being a four-year high school starter.

"He's got not a low-key personality, but he wants to be out of your eyesight," said Martelli. "He liked basketball. Now he's grown to love it. It's a credit to him."

Martelli said he doesn't set goals for his players, that's for them to do. "But he sat in that chair last year," Martelli said, talking in the conference room attached to his office. "I said, 'One of your goals for next season should be to be the most improved player in the league.' "

Miles said in his first three years, he was a catch-and-shoot jump shooter. "I was so easy to guard. Stand in one spot, catch and shoot. I didn't want to let that define my game. I wanted to add more aspects."

"Where he's changed the matrix, so to speak: His offensive rebounding has been extraordinary," Martelli said.

Bembry always gets massive defensive attention. Miles knows that gives everyone else opportunities, and that won't change. But has Miles, clearly a matchup quandary, started to see defenses steer more his way?

"Not yet," Miles said. "I've seen it a little bit. I feel like I have to prepare for it, because I think it's going to start coming now."

They may wonder where the big guy went over at Wendy's, but that absence at the checkout line could keep Miles and all the Hawks busier on the court from now right into March.