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Baltimore Roots Help Carry Isaiah Todd To Basketball Stardom

October 26, 2018
Isaiah Todd is a highly regarded high school basketball player. 

A 6-foot-10 junior forward at Trinity Academy in Raleigh, N.C., Todd is a consensus five-star prospect and rates the 14th-best player of the 2020 recruiting class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He already has offers from schools like North Carolina, Kansas, Florida, UCLA and Villanova and interest from schools like Duke and Maryland (where he actually took an official visit this month).

Isaiah Todd is someone you're going to be hearing an awful lot about in the coming years. Isaiah Todd is also a kid who misses his hometown. 

"I remember my middle school -- Golden Ring Middle School -- I remember walking up to the courts that were at my middle school," Todd said. "I really miss going to Chick Webb Rec Center every day. I remember every basketball team I ever played on in Baltimore. I miss my friends, my family."

The prep star now calls North Carolina home, but it's not his choosing. He's 17, after all.

"I'm 43 years old, I lived in Baltimore all my life up until four years ago," Todd's mother, Marlene Venable, said. "I wanted a little bit more for my kids. I always said I was going to move away but I just didn't know where I was going to go. Isaiah started playing basketball and he started playing for a Virginia team called Slam City. 

"And when he was playing for Slam City, we used to travel back and forth to Virginia. And then the crime rate started getting a little high in Baltimore. So I figured that it would be a good idea instead of commuting -- try to get my boys in a better environment. And that's when I decided to move."  

Venable's own troubled past lead to her wanting to get own kids out of Baltimore's Raspeburg neighborhood, where they were growing up.

"I always intended to move from Baltimore anyway," Venable said. "Because I just felt like it's something I wanted to do. I grew up there, I had some good times, some bad times. I was a bad girl in my teenage years. When you get to know me, you'll know that. And that's why I go so hard for my boys, because of the mistakes that I've made in my past. 

"I grew up in the Lafayette projects. My mom was a single parent. And I was a product of my environment. I hung around the wrong crowd and I started selling drugs."

Venable initially moved her family to Richmond, Va., where Todd finished middle school and attended John Marshall High School as a freshman and sophomore. Venable then made the decision to move again to Raleigh because of a relationship they had taken up with a basketball trainer who was working with Todd.

Venable said the decision to move her family wasn't just because of Todd's status as a burgeoning basketball star.

"Overall as a mom, you want the best for all your kids -- whether they're going to be a superstar [or not]," Venable said. "When I saw a potential there, it might have helped me do it faster."

Todd struggled with the decision to depart his hometown at such a young age. 

"I understood," Todd said. "At first when she asked me if I wanted to move to Virginia, I was kinda skeptical but when she kinda broke it down to me two, three times later, I realized that for one, she was gonna make the decision to go, and two, it might be better for me."

He admits there have indeed been benefits from getting away from the place where he grew up. 

"It's helped me focus," Todd said. "When I first moved to Richmond, not having as many friends at first, I went to the gym every day. Ask anyone. I lived in the gym. It created this work ethic within me so now wherever I go, I just want to work. I'm not saying I didn't have that in Baltimore, but growing up it's become more important."

With focus came attention. In addition to the recruiting interest, he became a part of USA Basketball's junior national team program. In 2017, he was part of the gold medal-winning American team at the FIBA U16 Americas Championship. As he continued to move, more basketball fans became aware of him which created a bigger spotlight. But Todd said he's barely noticed the additional attention. 

"It's never really been different," Todd said. "It's kinda the norm for me. I don't say that in any kind of boastful way. I've been getting this basketball attention since I was a kid. I try to just remain humble like my mom has installed in me and I just keep working no matter what."

His mother said there's only been one time Todd struggled with the spotlight. 

"As a mom, from what I see, I think he's doing OK," Venable said. "I think the only time it became a little stressful and pressured is when the media started critiquing and writing little things about his game, like when the rankings fell a little bit."

As a sophomore at John Marshall, several recruiting sites had ranked Todd as the individual top prospect in the country. That slipped just slightly going into his junior campaign at Trinity. But his mom said their grounded structure helped him withstand that disappointment.

"He didn't act like it really bothered him that much," Venable said. "The biggest thing for us both is learning to deal with the media and the negatives. But other than that, we're strong. Through God's grace, we go to church, strong in the word, we pray a lot. It is what it is."

Maryland fans are certainly hoping Todd's Baltimore roots will lead to him wanting to return to the area to play collegiately. He's an incredibly exciting prospect. While 6-foot-10, Todd said he's "becoming a guard" and expects to end up playing the three -- or maybe even the two -- at the next level. But fans hoping that family and friends in the area can talk Todd into coming home might be disappointed.

"I feel like everyone who knows me or is in the basketball world knows that they really don't have a say in what school I'll go to," Todd said.

Similarly, if fans are hoping Todd grew up a big Maryland fan and that would be the draw for him to return, they might also be disappointed. 

"When I lived in Baltimore, I really didn't watch basketball all that much," Todd said. "Especially not college basketball. Maybe I watched like the NBA Finals, but I was like 11, 12 years old. I really wasn't a fan of college basketball."

Todd and his mother aren't showing their cards when it comes to what his ultimate decision might be. But he did tip his hand regarding what decision it might not be. Despite the G-League's recent announcement that elite prospects could receive a $125,000 salary to play professionally in their first year out of high school, Todd said that's not a path he's considering. 

"No. It's not really," Todd said bluntly. 

Wherever he ends up, Todd has been molded by Charm City. During games at Chick Webb, he battled other top Baltimore high school stars like guard Gerard Mungo (Patterson) and forwards Che Evans (Dulaney) and Justin Lewis (Poly). Those battles helped him realize the potential he had to play basketball at a high level and helped him develop the edge he carries with him on the court to this day. 

"I don't like losing," Todd said. "It just comes with me being from Baltimore. I don't take anything from anybody. On the court I play with a chip on my shoulder. I guess you can call that that Baltimore toughness."

And he knows he'll be representing Baltimore for the rest of his life, a responsibility he already takes seriously. 

"It means a lot to me," Todd said. "It kinda came fast, as well, because I became sort of a role model for kids like wherever I go. And it really started in Baltimore because once I moved and became who I am now, I've become this beacon for kids to look at. Like, 'If he can make it because he works hard, then if I work hard then I can make it too.' So it means a lot." 

Photo Credit: Courtesy of USA Basketball