Monday, June 01, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Renaissance man

Washington & Lee senior Isaiah Goodman has got 'game' from all angles.

LEXINGTON -- Apparently, Tibetan monks love shooting hoops.

I did not know this. Frankly, neither did Isaiah Goodman. At least not until two years ago, when a group of them visited the Washington and Lee campus to share their songs and sand paintings.

Goodman, then a sophomore point guard for the Generals, got wind that the monks wanted to play some basketball. So he volunteered to suit up and take them on.

"They were pretty good," Goodman said. "You know, I'm a collegiate athlete and a little better trained than they were. But it was fun to play -- just for the laughs. Even though we couldn't understand each other really when we spoke, playing the game, everybody knew what was going on. So that was really fun."

Fun. Interesting. Different. Memorable. All adjectives that describe Goodman's pursuits and the man himself. He's always been a carpe diem kind of kid, a Renaissance man in high-top shoes.

Which might explain why last Friday, in front of a crowd of hundreds, he was hanging from a cable, dancing on the side of 40-foot-tall brick building.

It's called "aerial dance," and if you've never heard of it, don't feel bad. It's a fairly new phenomenon. We could regale you with artsy descriptions of what exactly it is, but this is the sports section, not Smithsonian magazine. So allow the athlete to put his self-choreographed performance in layman's terms.

"It's sort of a hip-hop, basketball-infused dance thing on the wall," Goodman said.

And Goodman's good at it. Really, really good. After six weeks of training with the W&L class, he put on a crowd-pleasing performance in the premiere Friday, spinning and twisting and even dribbling a basketball while hanging perpendicular to the wall. The students gathered on the lawn -- which included several of Goodman's basketball teammates -- responded with oohs and aahs as he executed difficult moves.


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This, in particular, pleased him.

"It's like a dunk contest," Goodman said. "Whenever the crowd is into it, the judges think the score's just a little bit higher."

Goodman's always had a knack for performing on the big stage. The best game of his basketball career came last February, when he scored a personal-best 24 points as the eighth-seeded Generals upset top-seeded Guilford in the ODAC tournament quarterfinals. And last year, he joined a hip-hop dance crew called "The Classics," which has performed three times on campus.

But aerial dance was something completely different, and he didn't want to miss out on it before he left school.

"That's what I think is really special about aerial dance: Nobody has really done this before," Goodman said. "We can do whatever we want -- hip-hop, classic, a fake fight scene -- "

He smiled pointed to the wall, where two aerial dancers were performing -- what else? -- a fake fight scene.

"This is our thing to do," Goodman said.

We all could learn something from Goodman. Not just college athletes. All of us. He's the son of an NFL player -- former Packers running back Les Goodman -- and a gifted athlete, but he refuses to stop there. He's been outstanding academically, a member of the NCAA Student Athlete Advisory Committee and an active participant in campus organizations.

And he still finds time to dance on walls.

"I've been given a lot of opportunities in my life, and I try to make the most of them," Goodman said. "When something like this comes up, it's something that's fun, different, and it's really special when you take advantage of it.

"I could have just taken it easy this term. I'm a senior, about to graduate, but I did something that I'll never forget and probably something these people won't forget. They saw Isaiah Goodman flip upside-down on a wall dribbling a ball."

Goodman graduates this week. The Generals will miss him. The team has improved its win total every season he's been on it.

Goodman will miss this place, too, but he's got an exciting future. He's already lined up a job at Target Corporate Headquarters in his home state of Minnesota.

"I'll be a business analyst for merchandise planning," he said. "I'll kind of be in charge of a category of goods at every store. So if you go to Target to get some electronics, that could be my category. Or it could be little girls' clothes. I don't know what it's going to be yet, but I'm pretty excited for it."

Goodman's going to try to keep playing basketball, too. He's hoping to join a company team or find a men's league in the city.

Or maybe, just maybe, he'll run the court with some more Tibetan monks.

With this guy, you just never know.

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