*Photo taken by Middleburg Academy assistant coach Mario Foster
This past Sunday saw a first-ever summer event come to a close: the ‘Virginia Live Period Shootout.’ Personally one of my favorite showcases I’ve covered this year, I deemed the two-part weekend sessions as a highly important opportunity for the participating private school teams. About 18 teams for each weekend arrived from not just regions all around Virginia, but also surrounding states of Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland, and New York. With a handful of college coaches on deck to observe the action, it took no time for guys to start showing what they’ve been working on for the first half of this summer. I had several takeaways about teams and noted several daily standouts within the ‘Shootout,’ as some REALLY took a leap in their stock. Amongst that group of individual performers includes a high-flying guard, Isaiah Folkes ’21, who’s commonly referred to as ‘Zay.’ He’ll be a new face for both the Dragons of Middleburg Academy (Middleburg, VA) this year and in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) Division II classification. Those in attendance for the past two weekends got a first taste of the rising junior’s special capabilities and others who have yet to watch him play should be put on alert very, very soon.
A native of Northern Virginia, Folkes officially made the decision to spend his upcoming upperclassmen years at the independent secondary school back on May 30th. His announcement definitely brought some buzz with it, as local peers and spectators were fully aware of the 6’2” guard’s promise. I’ve always acknowledged the stellar level of basketball competition comprising the Northern regions of Virginia; Folkes clearly isn’t any exception, as he earned a first team nod on the Cedar Run All-District selections following this past 2018-19 school season. When speaking about what led to him taking his talents to Middleburg, comfort definitely played a huge role.
“So, it first started with me getting invited to a workout at the school,” Folkes explained. “At first, I didn’t know much about what I wanted to do; if I wanted to really go there or not. But I decided to give the first workout a try because I realized that the coaches were taking time out of their day to personally reach out to me for that invite. Once I got there, I just had a good feeling about everything. It felt as if I had been there for a while, honestly…like being around family since day one. The staff kept it honest with me in all expectations or things I could potentially do. After that, it just felt right.”
The aforementioned ‘Shootout’ gave Folkes a great first run with the Dragons, as the team decided to compete in both of the weekend sessions. They especially stole the show during the opening portion; I can recall over a dozen of college coaches sitting courtside to check out their games. Playing some of the most minutes as a lead guard, Folkes stepped right in to contribute as one of the team’s most important pieces and arguably the most athletic guard present in the gym. He plays with a blend of explosiveness and power to slice his way for paint touches and aggressive drives. His jaw-dropping hang time stood out greater than any other prospect I saw at that position. That style of consistently playing downhill transitions into Middleburg’s pace quite nicely and, right now, it’s pretty evident that Folkes will have a heavy role in bringing playmaking, scoring, and defense. Multiple people sitting nearby at the event, along with Middleburg head coach Joe Philogene, drew comparisons of Folkes’ game to that of Dennis Smith, Jr.; another gifted guard for the New York Knicks. It’s a good notion, one that the young Dragon won’t disagree with.
“Yeah, everybody says that (comparison) actually. I can see it…I’m also trying to get my game similar to Ja Morant’s of the Memphis Grizzlies.”
We’re only a little more than midway of 2019, and more work must continue to keep happening on a daily basis, obviously, but Folkes’ show-stopping performances to finish out the month of June should give him and others great confidence in what he can bring to the VISAA. Stepping into that classification will likely show a contrast to the public school basketball scene Folkes has been a part of for the last couple of seasons. Regardless, the results of his showing in the ‘Shootout’ more than satisfied in several ways. He appeared very comfortable with his new teammates, was able to face several private school foes that he should see again the future, and picked up two Division I offers from Stetson University and Old Dominion University on June 22nd; a Saturday of the event’s first session. Youngstown State has also already extended an offer, being Folkes’ first one attained on June 15th.
“It (the ‘Shootout’) was fun and really gave players exposure. I think it showed myself and other guys what we still need to work on to get better, moving forward. Being with my teammates for the first time felt good…almost like we had all been playing together for a while. Nothing too new. I actually knew a little bit about the VISAA before coming to Middleburg but wasn’t sure at first it was right for me. I guess something just told me to take a chance and give it all a shot. I kind of knew it was time to try something different. As far as those offers, Old Dominion and Stetson told me they like how hard I play with energy. Youngstown State has actually been recruiting me for a while…it started during an open gym. They were the first program to show interest for a good amount of time before deciding to offer.”
Interest from other schools has started to grown in notable fashion for Folkes as well, including Lehigh University, Liberty University, VCU, and Radford. The past month clearly proved as a great step in the guard’s recruitment but he also isn’t the only member of his newly high school squad to catch the eyes of college programs. A 6’4” fellow classmate, Jaden House ’21, is another new addition to Middleburg and picked up those same offers from Stetson and Old Dominion with Folkes in the midst of the ‘Shootout.’ In addition, Howard University recently offered the strong scoring guard on June 26th. Folkes has acknowledged the great chemistry between him and House on the court, as the two also compete for Team Loaded VA 16u in travel ball. When they both start to catch fire, it definitely becomes an entertaining viewing to watch.
“I think we have a good bond on the court, for sure. Honestly, I feel like we can make a statement as the best 2021 backcourt in Virginia.”
The two should continue that deadly combination for the incoming weeks to officially finish out the 2019 travel season, as July’s always a big month following the quiet ‘dead period’ of June. It’ll be a final chance for audiences to catch Folkes, House, and all of Team Loaded’s other next-level talent on the floor; something I personally encourage. Michael Gray ’21, Roosevelt Wheeler ’21, Jason Nelson ’21, and Lamonta Ellis ’21 are just a few names on the roster, as all four have pulled in college offers.
“We’re leaving for a tournament in Alabama on Wednesday (7/10). I think it goes on from Thursday to Sunday. After that, we’ll come back home for a few days before flying out to Los Angeles for the Adidas Gauntlet Finale. That should be the final trip for us.”
It must be nice to travel around the country at that age. Folkes and his crew should have a lot of fun on the road and I’m confident they’ll get the job done to end July in a satisfying way. Once that’s put behind him, Folkes will have a necessary amount of time to devote hours spent in the gym prepping for his junior campaign. There’s some particular areas left to check off the list of his high school goals.
“Skill-wise, I’m mainly working on my jumper and handle. I also want to show that I’ve increased my IQ and defense when people see me again. For the next two years, I want to win two state championships during my time here at Middleburg and hopefully receive as many offers as possible. Winning is always going to be the most important goal for me.”
Definitely the words you want to hear from a guy dictating a team’s tempo. Middleburg has landed a special one in Folkes’ arrival and I can’t wait to see how he soon fares in the competitive VISAA. One thing I’ll say for sure; he can showcase some highlights, especially in the open floor.
Oh, the ritual: where does Isaiah Folkes see himself in ten years?
“I see myself playing professional basketball in the NBA or overseas, whichever option is better for me and my family.”
I’m not sure these folks are truly ready for Folkes.