ALL-COUNTY BOYS BASKETBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Isaiah Dennis shoots his way to POY honors

Apr. 27—Going to a Baldwin High boys basketball game for the 2023-24 season, following the Braves on their way to a fourth straight region championship, maybe what one anticipates the most is how much a certain senior will 'go off.' 'Go off,' or fill up the nets like Steph Curry in an NBA skills contest. With unconscious precision.

Sandy's Spiel, labeled as the leader of Georgia High School Association basketball coverage, was impressed enough with the field goal accuracy of Baldwin High's Isaiah Dennis to name him "Best Shooter" of Class AAAA. With 15 games of 20 points or more for a club that went 27-3 and reached the state Final 4, Dennis is the choice from a deep Braves roster as The Union-Recorder All-County Player of the Year for boys basketball.

Dennis' average in 28 of the 30 games was just below 20 at 19.5 points per game. He shot 42% overall from 3-point land. His season high of 34 points was in a game against Perry where he only made three from outside the arc, but was 12-for-20 overall from the floor. Dennis recorded another 12-for-20 shooting game with just three 3-pointers, and that was in a 27-point effort during Baldwin's first-round state tournament win over Southeast Bulloch.

Dennis began the 2023-24 season knocking in 30 points against Morrow High. He notched 32 against the only non-Georgia opponent, North Augusta of South Carolina, and in a rare loss for the Braves, against a state champion in Greenforest, Dennis led the way with 24.

"It's a blessing," said Dennis about being named Player of the Year to go with the All-State and All-Region honors. "A lot of hard work, dedication, sweat, blood and tears in the gym ... to be where I am. Ben Smith, my own personal trainer, my parents pushed me.

"Couldn't finish (the season) how I wanted it to be with a state championship ring, but other than that, I thought my senior season was good. One of my best years out of four in high school."

How about the unique honor of "Best Shooter?" It can't just be because of long-range touch, but just putting the ball in the bucket in any way possible.

"That's a big honor," said Dennis. "To be called the best shooter in the state."

What does it take to be a good shooter of the basketball?

"Work. Me and my father go to the gym before every game and put up a ton of shots," he said. "After the game, I go back to the gym and put up some more shots even though I don't have to. Just so I can make sure my shot's still on."

It probably gets up to and beyond 100 a day. The work does make him mentally and physically tired, and even frustrated when the ball is not finding the hole.

"It gets to you, but you have to stay focused," said Dennis.

As for those stretches of games when Dennis is 'lighting up' the scorebook, all he can say is he's 'hooping' and having fun.

"I can definitely do it all around, mid-range pull-up. That's my go-to," he said. "I can attack the hole, but nobody's stopping my pull-up. I get too high off the ground for anybody to try to block.

"People definitely underestimate (my whole game) thinking I can't do (the hard stuff like defending and rebounding). It's there."

Dennis mentioned not getting to the state finals this season, but he was there on the roster of the 2020-21 Braves as a freshman. How did he feel sitting on the bench of the Macon Coliseum when Baldwin won it all? "Scared." He watched a senior, Will Freeman, hit a mid-range jumper, and went to being happy with a one-point win over Fayette County.

"It was a good show. I enjoyed watching. I didn't want to get in the game," said Dennis.

He remembers being the one taking all the bumps and bullying in practice, but he took that experience and created his own career.

Dennis did have one of those tough adjustments for a senior when the championship-winning head coach, Anthony Webb, left in 2023. He was replaced by Ben Smith, who had a successful stint at Dublin High and kept the Baldwin tradition going.

"(Smith) first came in immediately ... talking about getting together, hanging out, getting to know each other," said Dennis. "Cool, very funny, too. Good personality. You can get adjusted to him easy. He's got so many quotes he told us, it's ridiculous. How to become a better man in life and basketball."

Dennis will be taking an opportunity to continue basketball at the junior college level. He is signing with Southern Union in Alabama, telling the coach to hold a No. 12 jersey for him. It's his goal to improve his game there and gain another opportunity to move on to Division I.

Dennis also plans to major in business and real estate while eyeing a professional career on the hardwood.

"My favorite team is definitely the University of North Carolina," he said. "Dream school there. I can make it there."

What made this year's Baldwin team special was not just Dennis and fellow senior Tre Lawerence, but an influx of sophomores who at times would put up a game's high total.

"Stay together. Play team ball. Listen to coach Ben. He's always putting them in the right path to win games and in life," Dennis gave as advice. "They'll go to state next year if they stay together and play hard. Whoever has the hot hand, keep feeding him. Any of us can score anytime we want."