Isabella Barrett may be a 6-foot high school basketball star, but she likes to do a lot of the same things as most teens her age.
“Well, pretty much basketball takes up a lot of my time,” Isabella said. “But I like playing PlayStation with my friends, I enjoy going on dirt bike rides, bike rides, just hanging out with my brother, anything in that sort.”
Bella, as her friends call her, is a sophomore at Verrado High School in Buckeye. The 14-1 Vipers sit atop the 5A Desert West standings and are ranked second in the 5A conference, as of March 5.
The impressive record isn’t the only thing that’s special about this team.
“It’s been kind of fun because these girls — a lot of them on the team — have known each other for a long time, and they played (together) when they were younger,” said Isabella’s mother, Lisa. “So, it’s a lot of fun to see them growing up and maturing as people, students and players.”
Isabella added, “We’ve molded together over the years to be able to be the team that we are today. We’re so reliant on each other. There is no drama. There is no one person that is trying to stand out themselves. It’s a team, and we’re all trying to win that day and just make sure we keep going.”
Because of that team-first mentality, Isabella said scoring points isn’t necessarily her favorite part of the game.
“I enjoy getting rebounds, because that’s able to stem to everything that happens on the floor,” Isabella said. “If no one gets a rebound, then no one’s able to score, no one’s able to pass the ball, so I think rebounds (are critical).”
The bonds between Verrado’s players run deeper than on most high school teams. Isabella and her teammate Hannah Beard, for example, have known each other since kindergarten.
“I get to play with my friends. We’re all really close. It’s just like playing with your sisters basically,” Hannah said. “I know where (Bella) wants the ball, she knows where I want the ball, so it’s just an easy game playing with her.”
On the court, Isabella is having a strong season for the Vipers, averaging 11 points and 8.9 rebounds through 13 games. She attributes her versatile style of play to watching her favorite player, two-time WNBA champion Breanna Stewart.
“She’s what I try to model my game after. … How she’s able to play any position,” Isabella said. “She’s 6-foot-4, so that would be considered like a bigger player, but she’s able to bring the ball down, shoot the ball, do basically anything on the floor.”
In addition to her talents, Isabella brings certain intangibles to the team that coaches look for in their players.
“What I really appreciate about her more than anything else is her basketball IQ,” said Verrado coach and Hannah Beard’s father, Vernon Beard. “We talk the game, we talk about certain situations, why we do it. And it’s not me talking at her; it’s us talking to each other.”
“Basketball IQ is not something that just comes naturally to people. It’s understanding, study, watching the game, watching the game and really seeing it,” said Isabella’s father, Ron. “Everyone does hard work on the court, but understanding what happens off the court is equally hard work.”
“Hard work” may not be enough to describe Isabella’s work ethic. Vernon said he’s let her into the gym at 4 a.m. some days, just because she wants to get as much practice time as she can.
“You can’t teach that. That’s either you want to be better at some endeavor or you don’t,” Vernon said. “We all know if you want to be great at anything, you’ve got to sacrifice some time, and that’s what makes it a beauty to be around her, to coach her. … She’s going to be the first one there and the last one out.”
For Ron, watching his daughter play at this level has become a bit of a roller coaster.
“It’s a whole landscape of emotions,” Ron said. “From joy, being a proud parent, to frustration because she didn’t make that one move that we’ve been working on, to wishing I could run down to give her a quick little tip, to … seeing her elevate her game, help the team, be a good basketball player all around.”
Being only a sophomore, Isabella’s future is far from certain. One thing she said she does know, however, is that college basketball is her next target, no matter where that leads her.
“Definitely (NCAA) Division I, that’s my goal,” Isabella said. “If I’m given the opportunity to play overseas or play to the next level after college, then that’s definitely an option I would consider, but I think definitely anywhere across the United States, I’d be open to playing.”
“Well, that’s her dream, so I hope that that happens for her,” Lisa said. “That would be really exciting for us to be able to continue watching her (for) more years to come.”