An Independent School • Grades 5-12

The following interview transcript is from a conversation between Isiah Brown ’16 and Lakeside magazine editor Jim Collins for "In Our Own Words," from the "Black at Lakeside" Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Lakeside magazine. Photo by Zorn B. Taylor.

Lakeside Magazine:

What was it like to be a student at Lakeside in your time? How did that work for you?

Isiah Brown:

It was definitely a transition. I’m originally from Anchorage, Alaska. So my upbringing up until the point that I moved to Seattle, which was in middle school, was kind of small town-ish. I went to the same Christian private academy kind of school, that’s like pre-K through high school. I went there all the way from pre-K to fifth grade. And then I transferred right before I moved to Seattle in the sixth grade and went to a different school. But I definitely was in kind of a small-town environment, very familiar. And so, I think, obviously being in a private school environment from academic standpoint, it gave me a really strong baseline to start off on. When I ended up at Lakeside, that really helped me. From a school standpoint, but also from an environment standpoint.

I had always been around a bunch of different people playing basketball. That’s one of the things that is afforded to you: being able to travel. And playing with and against people from different backgrounds and cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds, whatever the case was. So, I definitely had always felt very comfortable around a different eclectic group of people and just around different kinds of people. I have friends from all walks of life.

Going to Lakeside and being in that environment, from just a society standpoint, it definitely helped me. It helped me become even more comfortable in those situations and just around different people as well, so I loved it. That was one of my favorite aspects about going to school. The things that I learned from those different kinds of people. I think it’s versed me and it’s made me way more, I guess, worldly or...  gave me a lot of information that I wouldn’t have gotten if I had just gone to a regular high school or something in the city, something like that. So I’m grateful for that aspect of it.

Lakeside Magazine:

What grade were you when you entered Lakeside?

Isiah Brown:

I was a freshman. I came in my ninth-grade year.

Lakeside Magazine:

Was your decision to go to Lakeside something your parents pushed for? Was the choice for academics or was it more basketball-focused?

Isiah Brown:

I actually found out about Lakeside pretty late in my process of choosing a school. From a basketball standpoint, I was looking at what was going to be the best situation for me, and Lakeside just kind of popped up towards the end. I had kind of been through the ringer, looking at a bunch of other schools, private schools, public schools around the city, and seeing where I wanted to fit best. But yeah, my parents were definitely really excited about the fact that I could get the best of both worlds kind of thing, as a student and as an athlete. And being in a competitive academic environment like that, and just the people that I would be going to school with. And the kind of opportunities that would afford me later in life. And even just my overall experience in school in general was something that my parents were definitely really big on.

So yeah, it was a push from both. From an athletics standpoint I felt like I had an opportunity to go and build something. And then from an academic standpoint, obviously, that’s as good as it gets anywhere in the country. My parents pushed and wanted me to be in a situation like that.

Lakeside Magazine:

How was your basketball experience at Lakeside?  Did you feel like you got good coaching and grew as a player there?

Isiah Brown:

Yeah, Absolutely. It was amazing, it was a lot for sure. Obviously, my freshman year was a crazy year and an historic year, and I always felt grateful and fortunate to have been a part of that. And there was a lot of change and turnover in my time and I played with a lot of different guys. And played for two different coaches and in two different buildings, and kind of saw the program go through a lot of transition. But yeah, I mean, my career there is something that I’m really thankful for. There were points in my career where I felt like I might’ve wanted to leave, and I look back on it now and am extremely happy that I decided to stay. I don’t think that I would have had the career that I had. Or been able to accomplish the things that I accomplished individually and building something of my own at a school. I think that’s one of the biggest blessings of my life: going there and having the opportunity I had, the career that I had.

Lakeside Magazine:

Did you finish all four years and graduate from Lakeside?

Isiah Brown:

I did. Yep.

Lakeside Magazine:

How were you regarded on campus? Did you feel like a basketball player first? Or at Lakeside were you just one of many kids doing impressive things outside of the classroom?

Isiah Brown:

I think that was one of the things that was really unique about the school environment. I always felt I was just a part of a larger group of kids that were doing extraordinary things outside of school or even in school. So many of my friends were doing incredible things and accomplishing all of these incredible feats, whether it was athletic or something academic or something in science or something like that. So, yeah, I always felt like what I brought to the table was kind of just adding to what the school boasted itself. And I definitely felt revered on campus. I was well liked and was popular and stuff like that, if you want to say it like that.

I got that feeling from my teachers and from my classmates, and having that obviously small class size of student, it felt like that even more. But I think it was a lot different than my experience would've been in a different school. And being a basketball player at Lakeside meant I was always in all of my classes a lot of the time. And so, I think that impacted me really positively as well. I got inspired by the people that I was around — to be good in my field and to do that as well as I could.

Lakeside Magazine:

Was there anyone on the coaching staff or any of your teachers who you would consider a mentor?  Any people that you stayed in touch with after you graduated?

Isiah Brown:

Yeah, definitely teachers. I mean, we’re in touch here and there. I had really impactful teachers. A lot of my English professors. I took English with Fakhereddine Berrada my freshman year. He gave me a new perspective on literature, and I was able to learn a lot from him. And I ended up studying film in school, and I’m currently doing a master’s degree in English and creative writing. So that definitely had a positive impact on me. But a lot of my English teachers, Mr. Lapsley and people like that — I was really fortunate to learn from and to be in class with. Jamie Asaka was somebody who was kind of a mentor to me when I was in high school, and still is to this day. We stay in touch and are constant contact with each other. She was like my mom at school. She took care of me and made sure I stayed out of trouble. And still doing that to this day, whether I tell her I need it or not. She’s still checking in on me.

There are a few people that are still kind of actively in my daily life right now. But everybody — I feel like that entire community — has done a lot for me and continues to.

Lakeside Magazine:

What was the most difficult part of Lakeside for you, the hardest part?

Isiah Brown:

From a school standpoint, it was definitely difficult. I think that adjustment, going to Lakeside. I had more homework going to Lakeside than I ever had in college. Academically, it’s definitely an incredible environment to be in. It’s very competitive. There’s a lot of competition going on in the classroom, which is great because just like in any kind of competition, that pushes you and brings the best out of you. So it was good for me. Probably the hardest part was just balancing all that with sports and everything else that’s going on as you’re a teenager, whatever your high school.

But I mean, it was really difficult, but it was one of the things that I think was really beneficial for me, too. Especially preparing me for college, but even just in life: learning how to deal with things and manage and balance. Everybody had a lot going on, so it wasn’t anything to complain about. Now, I'm really comfortable balancing things and being able to focus on two or three things at once and things like that because it was imperative for success at Lakeside.

Lakeside Magazine:

Did you start dabbling in music at Lakeside as well?

Isiah Brown:

I did. The first songs that I ever recorded were actually in the digital media studio, in the Pigott Arts facility. It was the springtime of my senior year, and I had never had as much off time. Every year had been — as soon as the high school season was over — I was getting ready for AAU and I was traveling a lot. So, I wasn’t in the home as much, and didn’t have as much time to spend doing stuff like music. I was always playing. So, after my senior season, I had already committed. I wasn’t traveling and playing club basketball. I was just preparing to go to college. So I had a bunch of free time, and one of the great things about Lakeside is the schedule.

I was a senior and taking full advantage of having some free periods. I was definitely taking advantage of my free time. I started messing around in there with my friends, just kind of as a... not necessarily as a joke, but it was kind of something that we were doing to have fun to pass time. I was taking a theater production class, which I specialized in. I took it for two or three years with Alvin Snapp, my theater prod teacher, he would let me go into the studio during class, and I would get credit for the day of class if I could go in there and make something. As opposed to being in the theater all day, I started doing that during class periods and during free periods, just sitting there messing around, making music, rapping.

We had kind of a whole studio in there. I would go in there by myself and be there for hours and hours and hours. And then my friends came and joined me, and we started making music and putting it out, and there was a pretty good response to it. We started taking it a little bit more seriously. And then around that time I met Royce David [’17], who is like my brother. He's younger than me. At the time we had a history class together, and we kind of got connected through a mutual friend. We would go to history class third period every day, and we both had free periods right before assembly.

So we had a two-and-a-half-hour block, and we’d just go to the studio. We used to sit in history class, and he would sit on his computer and he would show me stuff during class, and then we’d go straight to the digital media studio after that and be there for hours and hours. So that’s kind of how my first-ever album came about, just me and him sitting in this clean-ass studio for hours. We made it pretty exclusively in there. But yeah… a lot of the people that I make music with to this day are people that I went to school with and people that I know through Royce. That’s how it all started. We were just doing it for fun. And then we got a pretty cool response from people that liked the music, and kind of took it from there.

We always used to say it was good mojo to be in there. It was right near the computer lab where Bill Gates and Paul Allen and those guys created Microsoft. We’d think, “There’s no way we can go in there and make something that isn’t legendary.”

Lakeside Magazine:

Where are things right now with you, musically?

Isiah Brown:

They’re picking up for sure. Obviously, I’m out of school now. And there were some things that I wasn’t able to partake in because of the NCAA, you know, the rules and things like that with amateurism. So, I have a little more space, now, to take advantage of more opportunities that have been on the table for me, from a music perspective, than I would have had while I was in school. So there’s a lot going on this summer with that. A lot of new music, and hopefully some new business ventures and stuff like that. So yeah, still very passionate about my music. Definitely can’t wait for this new season of music: creatively, and what I’m going to be putting out and giving to people. A lot of music and a lot of good news.

Lakeside Magazine:

Have you kept your same performing name, or has that changed over time?

Isiah Brown:

I’ve been Zay Wonder for a long time. When I decided to take my music more serious, that was the name that I landed on. I’m a big Stevie Wonder fan. That was an inspiration, and it just kind of stuck. So that’s what people know me by now. It’s become a little bit of an alias for me, which I like. And yeah, it’s like a second personality, allows me to express myself in a different way. I’m chill expressing myself when I play like that. It’s cool.

Lakeside Magazine:

Are you done now as an NCAA basketball player? You’ve played four years?

Isiah Brown:

I am. Yes. I am officially done.

Lakeside Magazine:

Do you hope to play professionally?

Isiah Brown:

Yeah, absolutely. I’m going through the process right now of hiring an agent and getting ready to start pre-draft training and all that. So yeah, the dream is to play in the NBA. I have a pretty decent shot, thankfully. I’m definitely going to give it all that I can give it.