Faith has been a part of Issac McBride's life for as long as he can remember, and that doesn't look like it's going to change anytime soon.
In fact, his belief is what he's leaning on during a journey that's taken him from one of the blue blood programs of college basketball in Lawrence, Kan., to an institution trying to regain a sense of respectability in Nashville, Tenn. That trek has also drawn criticism, something that McBride admitted bothered him briefly.
McBride at a glance
NOTEWORTHY The 2019 Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year signed with Kansas in November of 2018 and enrolled in July of 2019 before withdrawing the following September. … Committed to Vanderbilt in December and will have four years of eligibility after sitting out the entire 2019-20 season.
But much like he did whenever he invaded opposing arenas and gymnasiums during an impressive high school career at Baptist Prep, he's muted the negativity and continues to move forward.
He had that same frame of mind when he signed with the Kansas Jayhawks in 2018, and he doesn't intend to stray from it when he laces up his sneakers for the first time with the Vanderbilt Commodores.
"I know who I am as a person and as a basketball player," said McBride, who enrolled at Kansas in July but left in September before his freshmen season opened. "I'm a kid who still has an opportunity to use the gifts that God has given me. I plan to do just that."
McBride's talents were on full display as a four-star prospect at Baptist Prep where he led the Eagles to three state championships and became the team's all-time leading scorer. He averaged nearly 29 points per game during his senior season, but it was his play on the AAU circuit where he truly began turning heads nationally.
Several big-name schools, including Auburn, Oklahoma State and Tennessee, all vied for McBride's services before he ultimately signed with Kansas. However, the 2019 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette All-Arkansas Preps Boys Player of Year decided the Jayhawks weren't the fit he was looking for and left after two months. That decision drew backlash from those on the outside looking in.
"For the ones that know me, they respect my decision and know why I left," McBride said. "The naysayers and doubters, they have their assumptions on why I left, and they can believe whatever they choose. I got a lot of flak for [leaving Kansas], and I got a lot of people saying I'll never be the same, things like that.
"I just took all of it with a grain of salt and kept it moving, kept it pushing because I know what God says about it."
McBride was fine with everyone cross-examining his choice to leave a Kansas program that had won 16 of the previous 17 Big 12 regular-season titles and is a perennial national title contender. It was the nit-picking about his ability and whether or not he was truly a Division I player that got his attention.
"I read something that came out from some other Arkansas media publication that said Isaac McBride had one good weekend of high school basketball and AAU, and that he's not a real SEC caliber guard," he said. "I looked at that and at first I was like, almost half of the SEC schools offered me so what are they basing that off of. So I was thinking, 'Oh, I've got to prove these people wrong.' But my passion has always been basketball.
"The day that I start trying to prove people wrong and using them as fuel and motivation to become a better basketball player is the day I need to stop playing. If my daily motivation is to go prove an Arkansas media outlet wrong or go prove something to whomever is talking bad about me, then I'm not going to be a successful person."
The criticism ate at McBride for a short period, but for a kid who's always contended that he's self-motivated, he didn't let it linger.
McBride eventually decided to link up with Vanderbilt, which was going through a transition itself. Former NBA veteran Jerry Stackhouse was hired five months prior to McBride's defection from Kansas to take over for Bryce Drew, who was fired after going 40-59 in just three seasons.
"I had a coach that pushed me on Team Penny, Coach Faragi [Phillips] during the summer of my 16-year-old AAU season, and he basically gave a call to my dad," McBride said. "He was now on Coach Stackhouse's staff, and he said that they needed to get me down [Nashville] to check out the campus. I had been to Nashville before in high school tournaments and fell in love with the city then. So we went down and toured, but it was the educational part that sold me.
"I can go and shoot a basketball anywhere at any level because I'm confident in my abilities, but when the ball stops bouncing, what do I have that I can sit back on? I know it's cliche for people to talk about the education part of things, but for me, that was important. I can get injured or can have something go on with me later on in life, but knowing I have an education is something I can count on to make sure I open up other doors for me."
McBride said the educational tug that Vanderbilt provided, combined with the guidance of Stackhouse and Phillips, were enough for him to commit in December.
Since then, it's been business as usual for the former three-time all-stater. The coronavirus pandemic largely shut down everything athletically during early spring, but McBride maintains that he's cranked things up, especially since he didn't play this past season.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/THOMAS METTHE -- 3/14/2019 -- Baptist Prep guard Isaac McBride
"I've just been trying to stay in tip-top condition and sharpen my skills," he stated. "I wake up and go run some sprints or a mile. Then I go do a sand workout for about 45 minutes before I take a little break. Later on in the evening, I go to a little gym for a couple of hours and work out.
"Sitting out a year took a toll in a sense, but I know God is sovereign, and I relied on what He led in my spirit. The one season that I do sit out, no one's playing for a national title. So I just looked at that and saw how God was working it out in my favor and in my situation."
That ordeal that produced ridicule from some may soon yield praise. McBride is expected to produce early with the Commodores, who went 11-20 in 2019-20, but the 6-1 guard isn't adding any unnecessary pressure on himself.
"When I went to KU, I kind of put this big role on me because I was feeling like I had to support and put everyone on my back here in Arkansas," he said. "I love my family, my friends and Little Rock in general, but my parents told me I don't owe anything to anyone. At Vanderbilt, I'm solely focused on how I can help Vanderbilt become a better team, how can I help that community and help affect other people's lives and show God's light.
"I know I can perform and play, but my role is to come in there and do whatever they need me to do to turn that program around and be a building block to open doors for others."
Sports on 05/06/2020