After his post-grad plans went up in smoke last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic, former Pitman High School basketball player Kyahn Issa didn’t let a change in circumstances stop him from fulfilling his goal of competing for a four-year university.
Issa committed to Ottawa University in April, nearly a full year after graduating from PHS with the Class of 2020, earning a scholarship to the private college in Kansas thanks to plenty of emails, highlight reels and self-promotion.
“It was a wildly stressful experience, especially because of the pandemic,” Issa said of the last year. “All of the colleges had seniors playing an extra year, so they didn’t need incoming players. It’s hard to get a scholarship when you’re not playing in front of any coaches.”
The pandemic took Issa on a rollercoaster ride when it came to his future playing basketball, with the Turlock native bouncing around from team to team until he found his new home in Ottawa.
Prior to graduating high school last year, Issa had planned on continuing his education and basketball career at College of Alameda, a two-year community college in the Bay Area. He was planning to stay with family in the region since his mom was moving to Georgia, but uncertainty surrounding the upcoming season compelled the young athlete to reclassify to the 2021 class and join the team at Grand River Academy in Ohio.
“I thought I could develop more and maybe find another school to go to,” Issa said. “I thought, ‘Let me just give myself more time and then hopefully when I’m done, school will be back and coaches can start watching me.’ It ended up working out.”
Issa still had a way to go until it worked out, however, only staying in Ohio for a few months before COVID outbreaks at the school worried his mother and once again put his basketball season in jeopardy.
“I was there to get more opportunities, but it looked like we weren’t even going to have a season so I ended up leaving beforehand. A lot of people were getting sick and my mom was worried, so I came back home to Georgia and started working on figuring out where I wanted to go to school,” Issa said.
He ultimately decided to return to California and play for West Coast Elite, a highly competitive travel ball team. But he wasn’t just putting work in on the court. Issa was emailing coaches constantly during his free time, clipping together his best plays into videos for them to watch and posting them on social media to catch the attention of others.
Then, one day, it worked.
Ottawa University was one of several schools to reach out to Issa and was the only college to offer him a scholarship to play basketball after he visited the campus. He wanted to attend a school which would not only provide him with the chance to play at the collegiate level, Issa said, but where the future nursing major could also receive a quality education.
“All of this happened in the span of probably six months,” he said. “Playing at the college level has always been my main goal, so it’s been a stress relief to finally get to do that and not have to worry about where I'm going to go. It was a big blessing that came just in time.”
Issa will move onto campus at Ottawa University in late July, he said, ending a months-long saga of uncertainty which came to a close thanks to his own hard work. With so many athletes struggling to be noticed by scouts and coaches during the pandemic, he had some advice for those who may be losing hope.
“The advice I would give is to self-promote yourself, because a lot of these coaches are busy with so many other things and have other kids to worry about. I wasn't waiting on a college to come find me...don’t sit back and hope and wait, self-brand yourself because it helps a lot. Coaches are there to help you, but sometimes they don’t have the time and these days you can do everything yourself, really.”