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A fear of flying won’t stop Isaiah Stewart’s dad from showing support

The father of the top NBA prospect plans to travel by train from Rochester to Washington to watch his son play

Dela Stewart is afraid of flying, which poses a bit of a dilemma if he wants to watch his son — potential NBA lottery pick Isaiah Stewart — play basketball for the Washington Huskies this season. Dela Stewart lives in Rochester, New York, more than 2,600 miles away from Seattle.

“Trust me, he will take the train to watch me play. That’s my dad. It takes three days, and he will call me every stop,” Isaiah Stewart told The Undefeated at the 2019 Nike Hoop Summit in April. “He will call me five times throughout the day to let me know where he is at. It’s annoying. But that’s my pops.”

Dela Stewart took a 60-hour train ride from Rochester to Portland, Oregon, in April to watch his son play at the Hoop Summit. A train ride to Seattle would take him 62, 74 or 95 hours one way, depending on layovers. It wouldn’t be cheap either, with prices starting at $277. But as long as he avoids flying, this will be his preferred mode of transportation to see his son play at Washington.

Isaiah (left) and Dela Stewart (right) in Portland, Oregon, at the 2019 Nike Hoop Summit. Dela Stewart took the train round trip from Rochester, New York.

Courtesy of Isaiah Stewart

While Dela Stewart said he comfortably arrived to America on a plane from Jamaica, and flew to Seattle with his son for his recruiting trip to Washington, he has long preferred trains.

“It is not too long for me because I don’t like the airbus,” he said. “At one time I used to love the planes. But now I don’t love the planes too much. I don’t know. I’m just scared of the airbus.”

“Our flight out to Washington,” Isaiah Stewart recalled, “he was shaking me saying, ‘I am never going to do this. I am never getting on a plane again,’ Then, once my visit was done, he took the train back.”

Stewart, however, credits his father for giving him the courage to play across the country at Washington instead of making the easier choice to stay closer to home.

Stewart, who was the 2019 Jersey Mike’s Naismith High School Player of the Year and the third-best prep prospect in the ESPN 100 Class of 2019, was recruited by Duke, Indiana, Michigan State, Villanova and Syracuse (only a 90-minute drive away from Rochester). But the 6-foot-9 power forward chose Washington. The main reason was his relationship with Washington head coach Mike Hopkins, who was previously a longtime assistant coach at Syracuse alongside Jim Boeheim. Hopkins had recruited Stewart while at Syracuse before being hired by Washington in 2017.

“Every time I tell someone I am going to the University of Washington, they ask, ‘Why?’ ” Stewart said. “Because I’m different. I’m OK with that. It’s my relationship with coach Mike Hopkins.

“A lot of people get caught up in the superstars, blue-blood stuff. But I like my situation. … I know where I come from. That is how my dad raised me.”

Dela Stewart, 62, hails from a northeast Jamaica town called Saint Mary, which has about 115,000 residents and is the home of dancehall reggae stars such as Capleton, Lady Saw, Ninja Man, Sizzla and Tanya Stephens. After quitting school, he was a fisherman in Jamaica before accepting a sugar cane cutting job in South Florida in the late 1970s.

“I moved to America when I was 20 years old,” Dela Stewart said. “They had a program where they needed people down by the Everglades where they cut the sugar cane. They came down to Jamaica and they had a contract. They picked me to come. That stuff was hard. If you don’t cut the maximum that they are supposed to cut for that day, they will cut you all the time and want to send you back home.”

Dela Stewart would eventually move to Rochester, where he met Isaiah’s mom, Shameka Holloway, and worked in construction in the ’90s. (Dela Stewart and Holloway are no longer together but he said they are on great terms. Both were present when their son announced his decision to attend Washington.) He retired in October, but said years of farm work and construction have taken a toll on his body.

Isaiah Stewart says he gets his work ethic from his father, not to mention his love for dancehall reggae music (his father was a house party deejay) and Caribbean cuisine.

“Jamaica means a lot to me,” he said. “I have a lot of family support there. Those roots definitely run deep within. As you can see by the way I play, I am a warrior. I try to be a monster. It’s just in me.”

ESPN.com currently ranks Stewart as the 12th-best prospect in 2020 draft class. One longtime NBA scout told The Undefeated that he is a fan of Stewart’s potential.

“I love his commitment to getting better,” the NBA scout told The Undefeated. “He has also improved his ability to shoot the basketball. He’s a worker. … He can be a starter and a rebounder for 10 years. I like him a lot.”

“He is going to be as consistent as any player in America,” Hopkins said in a recent news conference. “He just does everything right.”

Stewart and the Huskies open the season on Friday night against Baylor (ESPN, 9:30 p.m. ET) in Anchorage, Alaska. Dela Stewart said Wednesday that he is still checking out the Huskies’ schedule to find a time to watch his son play in Seattle in November. And yes, Dela Stewart plans on taking the train.

“It is relaxing,” he said. “You sleep. You give them the time for your breakfast when you want to eat. Lunchtime, same thing. Evening time, same thing. They feed you good on there, too, boy.”

Dela Stewart acknowledged that his biggest concern about traveling to Seattle is not the length of the trip, but the cost. He said finances are the reason he has not been to Jamaica in decades nor has he taken his sons.

“My dad has had a rough past,” Isaiah Stewart said. “He was picking fruit on a plantation. He wasn’t making any money. He took the risk of moving to Rochester where he didn’t know anybody. He took me through all his old homes. He did construction. He did all kinds of odd jobs. …

“That is where I get my hustler ambition from my dad. He did his best to put a roof over me and my brother’s heads. Hopefully, I can repay him one day.”

If all goes well this season, Stewart could be a top pick in the NBA draft. And if that’s the case, his father shouldn’t have a problem making that trip. A train ride to New York City would just take seven hours.

“In every way I am proud,” Dela Stewart said. “One hundred percent. In every way. I love him because he is my son and he makes me proud.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.