Junior guard Isaac Bonton walks towards his teammates on Jan. 17 at Beasley Coliseum. (ABIGAIL LINNENKOHL )
Junior guard Isaac Bonton walks towards his teammates on Jan. 17 at Beasley Coliseum.

ABIGAIL LINNENKOHL

It’s more than basketball

A long journey led Bonton to Pullman, now he wants to make the most of his time

January 31, 2020

Junior guard Isaac Bonton’s basketball journey spans over four different states and five different schools. Bonton joins the Cougars this season to assist in creating a new culture for WSU basketball and to reestablish himself in Division I basketball.

Bonton is from Portland, Ore., and has been playing basketball seriously since the fifth grade.

Bonton recalls a specific turning point in his life from the seventh grade when he was training with his dad and uncle. He was physically over-powered then and was shut down on every shot attempt he made. He left the gym that day and cried while he sat down on the stairs outside.

His dad and uncle approached him and told him that real pressure doesn’t come to you in sports, but in life. This was when Bonton realized that he wanted to take basketball to the highest level he could and go for it all.

“That just really opened my eyes to how passionate I was about basketball,” Bonton said. “That’s when I feel like my career kicked off.”

He started his high school career at Columbia Christian in Portland where he earned all-state honors and won a state title his freshman year.

He transferred to Parkrose High School for his remaining three years and earned all-state honors during his sophomore and junior year. It was during his junior year that Bonton got injured and missed his senior year.

He was receiving looks from the Pac-12 up until his injury, and then those Pac-12 schools turned a blind eye, Bonton said.

After high school, Bonton committed to Montana State University. He played 10 games for the Bobcats during the 2017-18 season and averaged 7.8 points per game. This was the only year he played with MSU.

His coaches’ style did not coincide with his own, Bonton said.

“His philosophy, I didn’t really agree with,” Bonton said. “I felt like we didn’t really mesh together.”

Bonton’s former MSU teammate and current friend, Harald Frey said Bonton’s hardworking and driven mentality inspired his own development.

Frey currently leads the Bobcats in scoring this season.

“He was a highly talented recruit, but he still came in here really humble and wanted to learn,” Frey said. “I’m kind of jealous he’s not a Bobcat right now, but we’ll forever be teammates and brothers.”

“I’m going to work hard and put everything into what I have.”

Isaac Bonton

In addition to Bonton’s half court buzzer beater this season during the Klay game, Frey had one of his own this season to win the game at the buzzer. Frey jokingly said his shot was better than Bonton’s, but reverted the praise back to Bonton.

“We talk from time to time, and it’s awesome to see him doing so well, because I know how hard of a worker he is,” Frey said.

After Montana State, Bonton then transferred to Casper College, a junior college in Casper, Wyo. His best friend and former Parkrose teammate, Wilfried Likayi, was already on the roster. Bonton averaged 21.4 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists and was a second team all-American junior college selection.

Bonton’s efforts in junior college regained the interest from Pac-12 programs. WSU head coach Kyle Smith and assistant coach Jim Shaw visited Bonton to offer him a spot on the 2019-20 Cougars’ roster. Bonton said he instantly approved and agreed with Smith’s system and wanted to be a part of it.

“I just fell in love with the coaching staff and their mindset when they came and talked to me,” Bonton said. “I came up for the visit, and it just worked out.”

When Bonton accepted his offer to WSU, he moved to Pullman and became roommates with junior forward Daron Henson. Henson’s collegiate journey to WSU was like Bonton’s. Henson started playing in Division I for Utah State, transferred to Salt Lake Community College, and then landed at WSU.

Henson said they quickly bonded over having a mutual motivation to show out in the Pac-12 coming from junior college.

“Some guys may think you can’t play at this level,” Henson said. “So, it’s definitely a chip on our shoulders to show them what we can do.”

Henson said the biggest lesson he’s learned from Bonton is how he’s adapted throughout the season and is playing through his struggles.

Henson said he takes that lesson with him every time his number is called.

Bonton focuses much of his motivation and inspiration in basketball with the trust from his teammates and the passing of his close friend Deandre Strickland.

Strickland, a former basketball player from Portland State University, was killed in August 2019. Bonton knew Strickland since he was a child, and they grew up playing basketball together. Strickland influenced Bonton to transfer to Casper College because of his previous experience playing there.

More importantly, Strickland influenced Bonton to accept Smith’s offer to play for WSU.

“He had goals for me,” Bonton said. “He told me to come here to play on the Pac-12 stage and really prove myself because he believed in me.”

Bonton said Strickland always fed off the competition. He thinks about Strickland every time he steps foot on the court and prays that he’s watching.

Bonton made the decision to delete his social media accounts after receiving the news of Kobe Bryant’s death and a follow up text from Bonton’s father.

Bonton’s father told him, “Use the most out of your talent, time and resources while you have the ability,” which he related back to Kobe’s career and legacy he left behind.

“[Kobe] wouldn’t want anyone to be stagnant because of what happened to him,” Bonton said. “I’m going to work hard and put everything into what I have. If I’m not doing that, then I’m letting him down.”

His work ethic reflects similarly with Kobe and Strickland’s mindsets during their careers and puts 110 percent into every minute of basketball he plays, Bonton said.

Bonton’s goal while playing for the Cougars is to be ranked in the top 25 of the AP polls. He said the team is heading in the right direction to do just that.

The Cougars have two more wins from last year’s overall record and tied with their conference win total from last season.

His personal goal is to be in the NBA one day.

“Obviously, I want to go play in the NBA after my career here and just have as much team success here as I can,” Bonton said.

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