Montgomery College basketball player Isaiah Jennings racked up numerous awards this past season. He earned Maryland JUCO All-Conference First Team and Region XX First Team accolades. He became the first Raptor—in any sport—to be named an NJCAA Division II All-American (second team). But the most coveted honor for many junior college athletes is earning a scholarship at a four-year school. Jennings recently celebrated that win when he signed a letter of intent to become a student-athlete at Claflin University in South Carolina.
“Claflin offered [a scholarship] on the spot. They are an HBCU (Historically Black College and University),” said Jennings. He also noted it is important to play in the region, where his parents watch him play. “Claflin plays teams like Bowie State and Virginia State. And I always wanted to play down south,” said Jennings.
The Division II Panthers play in the ultra-competitive Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA), a conference that has produced NBA players including Earl Monroe, Sam Jones, and Charles Oakley. Jennings, who hopes to be compared to these NBA legends someday, fell just short of earning Maryland JUCO player of the year in 2020. He says he will use that as motivation to keep getting better.
In February, Keith Byrd, men’s basketball coach, reached 100 wins, becoming the fastest in MC history to reach the milestone.
“It means a lot for this program,” he says. “My assistant coaches Elliot Hedley, Jamaal Wise, Matthew Parker, and Calvin Seldon work tirelessly to make sure that so many things operate with such efficiency. I am excited that we reached this milestone together.”
Byrd is very thankful for everybody who helped him get where he is, from MC leadership to the student-athletes.
“During practices, offseason workouts, and film study sessions, he displays the discipline every coach wants,” Raptors Men’s Basketball Coach Keith Byrd said of the 6-foot-4 Jennings. Byrd added that Jennings’ impact on the court started with his ability to motivate the team off the court.
He studied the game and understood the team’s strengths and weaknesses
Jennings harnessed that discipline and maturity at Corning Community College in upstate New York, redshirting in his freshman year. “I learned a lot,” he said of his experience at Corning. “I had to get my grades up and work.”
From the moment he arrived at MC, Jennings stepped up his game both on and off the court. He credits the College’s faculty and staff with being instrumental in his success. “They are willing to help, you just have to be willing to ask,” he said.
And when he donned a Raptors uniform, Jennings was unstoppable. He led MDJUCO in scoring with 726 total points for season, 26 points per game, was second in rebounding at 9.9 per game, and second on the team in assists with 2.1 per game.
“He dominated every aspect of the game—defense, offense, even out of bounds situations,” said Byrd. He studied the game and understood the team’s strengths and weaknesses,” Byrd said. He believes Jennings’ focus on the intricacies of the game led to his desire to major in education and someday become an elementary school teacher. “He takes great interest in the details,” said Byrd.
Jennings is still trying to fine-tune every aspect of his game in spite of COVID-19 quarantines. He has been working out as much as possible. “The hardest part is being forced to stay in the house, with no NBA, or March Madness,” he said. “I just want to go out and play again,” he added, noting he had not played competitively since the beginning of March.
Jennings is content knowing that when post-COVID life returns to a semblance of normal, he will head to Clafin University. He knows there is more to learn—both on and off the court.