After moving to Maryland from Louisville in sixth grade, Isaiah Burnett did what any basketball-obsessed pre-teen looking to make friends might do: join a local AAU team.
It was with the Severna Park-based Maryland 3D program that Burnett – now a 6-foot-4, 173-pound senior shooting guard at Glenelg Country School – was introduced to what would become his future home.
"A kid on the team (Jaylen Jasper), his dad (Ivin) is the offensive coordinator for Navy," Burnett said. "Whenever we went to shoot around, we'd always go to the Naval Academy and play at their gym. It was easy access to their facilities. I got a tour around the campus, probably in the sixth grade. … That was pretty nice."
Those middle-school trips to Annapolis proved to be the first of many for Burnett, one of three Division I commitments on Glenelg Country School's roster. Burnett, Anthony Longpre (Saint Joseph's) and Jalen Gabbidon (Yale) will lead the Dragons (19-9) on Tuesday night against McDonogh in an MIAA A Conference quarterfinal game.
Burnett – who averages 9 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and shoots 41 percent from the field – has been an unsung hero for a GCS squad that has spent the season ranked in The Sun's Top 15 poll. The "well-rounded skillset" Burnett has displayed this year is one of many reasons Navy coaches pursued him heavily.
"I think he fits in really well," said Dragons coach Kevin Quinlan. "He's got good size for his position and a really balanced skillset. He can handle the ball, he can finish, he's an excellent defender. [Former GCS star] Chancellor [Barnard] is at Loyola right now – [Isaiah is] not as quick-twitch athletic [as him] but Isaiah is athletic. He's got a more well-rounded skillset. I think he'll fit in real well. He's a quintessential Patriot League player with brains and skills."
Despite his familiarity with Annapolis and the Naval Academy athletic program, Burnett didn't always picture himself as a Midshipman. He dreamed of playing Division I basketball, but wasn't enamored with the military lifestyle at a young age.
"They first started recruiting me … at the beginning of this summer," Burnett said. "My first reaction, I was kind of iffy about … the service academy life [and] how I was going to like it. I always thought I'd go to a regular college, live the college experience. I kind of pushed it aside. But then talking about it with my sister, family and friends, I started getting used to it."
Burnett's older sister, Daja, was a standout basketball player at Severna Park who enrolled at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I., last year and is a plebe in Annapolis now. With Daja setting a positive example, Isaiah started building a relationship with Mids coach Ed DeChellis and reciprocating the interest. Quinlan said Navy coaches were sold on Burnett for a variety of reasons.
"He's gotten better in all realms," Quinlan said. "He's grown physically and been extremely dedicated to his strength training. He's packed on a lot of muscle in the past four years. He's become a phenomenal defender, our best defender last year. He's been shooting the ball well and super consistently from the perimeter."
A captain and four-year varsity player for Glenelg Country, Burnett officially offered his commitment to Navy in September. He was also recruited by Army, Lafayette, Radford and Western Kentucky.
"For my parents, my dad actually cried," Burnett recalled. "I think he really wanted me to go to a service academy. He knew how I'd grow as a man on and off the court, and how many doors [would] open for me off the court. For my mom, I think she was pleased, too. She thought it'd be a great fit for me."
Burnett's focused now on leading Glenelg Country on a long postseason run. After that, he'll turn his attention toward college. He's not sure if he'll spend next school year at Navy's prep school or head straight to Annapolis. Either way, he's embracing everything about his future in basketball and beyond.
"For me, I think it was the opportunities that come along with the Naval Academy," Burnett said. "The coaches first called me to recruit me for playing, but they talked about after college, the job opportunities I'll be able to have. That was pretty substantial in me making the decision. It's not just a four-year program; it's a life program."