May 15—Last season, Izaiah Vongnath was a reserve, a role player on the Union boys basketball team.
But he was a star. It's just that his coach didn't know it yet.
"Last year we were playing at Mount Si," Union coach Blake Conley said. "It's in Snoqualmie, four hours north. Izaiah came into the game, and the other crowd starts chanting 'Stick-to-Tik-Tok.' I thought they were just giving him a hard time. But I look over to our bench, and the kids were saying 'Coach, he's actually TikTok famous.' That's when I knew it was big. I just didn't realize it at the time."
During his junior year of high school in 2019-20, Vongnath saw his number of followers on the video-sharing social media platform skyrocket from 30,000 to more than 1 million. His TikTok handle is @iizaiahhh.
"Outside of basketball, it was passion I had," Vongnath said, somewhat embarrassed. "I just love to make people laugh and have fun. It's a side thing, but I haven't touched it in a while because we've been in-season."
When he's not influencing on social media, Vongnath has been a positive influence on Union's unbeaten basketball season.
The 5-foot-5, lightning-quick senior guard is averaging 17.3 points a game, hitting a season-high eight 3-pointers twice this season — on April 23 vs. Heritage and on May 7 vs. Kelso.
"The kid can flat-out shoot," Conley said. "He scores higher than anyone we've ever had in some of our shooting drills. That's including Ethan Smith, Kaden Horn, Cameron Cranston."
Vongnath said he spent the past years watching those shooters, waiting for his chance to show what he could do.
"I just learned from the greats above me," Vongnath said. "I had all those all-state, All-Region guards above me. I was just being a student of the game, just taking each of the things from the great players above me and just waiting for my turn to be ready to step up."
Conley said Vongnath has been part of the Union program since participating in Titan Camps when he was in grade school.
"He was the guy everybody wanted on their team," Conley said, recalling Vongnath in those past camps. "He was this little guy, but he could play. He's been the same kind of player since he was young. So it's really cool to see him step up. He got to be part of the last two teams that made runs in the state tournament. Now, it's his time. It's cool to see him rise to the occasion and be the player that he is."
Conley described Vongnath as a gym rat in every sense of the word.
"No one loves basketball more than Izaiah Vongnath," Conley said. "The kid, he just lives in the gym, playing basketball all the time. He loves basketball. That kid eats, breathes and lives it."
Vongnath now hopes he can be the one who can get younger teammates to follow his lead.
"It's fun," Vongnath said. "It's a great group of guys. I love it because we all love each other. It's like a family. And we love to see everybody shine, and there's enough room for everybody to shine."
Now, if he can just get his coach to be one of his many followers on TikTok.
"I don't do TikTok," Conley said. "But I hear it from the kids. I know he's a big star and all that. I think I've seen of couple of them just to see what it's about."
For Vongnath, what it's about is simple.
"It's just like bring everybody together, having fun, spreading love and joy," he said.