Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
After transferring from Maine in 2016, Issac Vann arrived in Richmond with little defensive experience at the college level.
Vann was thrown into the fire, having to adapt quickly to the Rams’ defensive playing style. His first assignment for the black and gold came during his redshirt season: prepare to guard the opponent’s best player.
“I just embraced it, and I step up to the challenge every night,” said Vann, a redshirt-senior forward. “It was just something they need me to do and look for me to do.”
That hasn’t changed during his career with the Rams as he’s faced the likes of Hofstra’s Justin Wright-Foreman and LSU’s Skylar Mays — both prolific scorers.
He limited Wright-Foreman to shooting 25% from deep in last season’s meeting and played a role in Mays’ seven turnovers Nov. 13. Wright-Foreman’s 25% from three was well under his season average of 42.5% last season.
“Certain guys are elite at certain things,” coach Mike Rhoades said of Vann. “I think he’s elite at taking some scorers — guys that need to score for their team — out of the game.”
Vann does not like to be scored on, so when he was assigned to the best player on the other team, it was added motivation.
“If I got to guard the other team’s best offensive player and I don’t like getting scored on, I got to step my defense up,” Vann said. “I take defense seriously, you’ve got to want to play defense, so it’s something I do.”
Since Vann guards the opponents’ top players, it allows the four other players on the floor to stick to their assignments.
“He relieves a lot of pressure for us,” said junior forward Marcus Santos-Silva. “He just makes it easier for us. I’m able to help out other people on the court because IV’s [Vann] focus is on the best player on the [other] team.”
Junior forward Corey Douglas called Vann the “best defender on the team.”
Rhoades ventured further and said Vann was “one of the best defenders in the country.”
“He can guard anybody on the perimeter and take them out of the game, make it really hard for them,” Rhoades said.
When he played for Bunnell High School, Vann said he was mainly an offensive weapon.
“I was just strictly asked to score,” Vann said. “I was never really asked to play defense like that. When I got here, the standards was just different. You got to play defense to get on the floor here.”
Vann was all over the stat sheet at Bunnell, said his high school coach, Pat Yerina. He said Vann logged close to 20 points and 15 rebounds a night, but he also had a defensive presence.
“He would have some blocks that were coming out of nowhere,” Yerina said. “He was taking off one step for the free-throw line, blocking some guy’s shot. After he did a few times, they were a little tentative going inside.”
Yerina said Vann’s defense improved throughout high school, as he knew he had to play defense at the college level.
Vann realized that too.
“When I got here, they told me if I didn’t play defense, I don’t play,” Vann said. “So, defense is what I do.”
Last season, Vann swiped 40 steals for the Rams, second-most on the team.
Vann said his defensive play helps him on the offensive end of the court as well, especially in the Siegel Center.
“When we get stops, the Stu goes crazy,” Vann said. “Those are the little things that make you want to play defense and make you want to score each and every time you go down the floor.”
Even though he’s known for his defense, Vann has used his offensive skills from high school to be one of the top scorers each night for the Rams.
In the NCAA tournament matchup with UCF last season, Vann made waves on social media after dunking on the Knights’ Tacko Fall, who stands at 7 feet, 6 inches tall.
“It was kind of a little inside joke between the team before the game, who would try to dunk on Tacko,” Vann said with a smile. “It was a cool experience.”