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In the event there was any doubt that Steve Fisher’s name extends far beyond that of San Diego State basketball, Athletic Director Jim Sterk offers ample proof.
“We had someone from across campus who was trying to recruit a key (administrative) position,” Sterk recalled. “During the process, they asked Coach Fisher to come in and make a call and try to close the deal. They said it was a long shot, but that they knew they were bringing in the best closer on campus.”
No word on whether the recruit in question was ultimately swayed, though it’s likely they now have a far better grasp of defending ball screens.
SDSU on Thursday honored the best closer on campus by naming the Viejas Arena floor “Steve Fisher Court,” an apt distinction for a man who brick-by-brick has changed not only a culture, but an entire community.
“I liken him to Tony Gwynn,” Sterk said. “People talk a lot more about the person than the coach.”
They talk about sincerity, about family, about passion, about conviction. They talk about a coach who somehow resurrected a program leaning against death’s door and turned it into a monster, one that in three days will begin a quest for an unprecedented 10th Mountain West title and a seventh straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
They talk about a man who refused to believe that basketball couldn’t be a burgeoning business on a campus and in a community where attendance was once announced by the time of day (10:15 = 1,015). They talk about a man who canvassed Montezuma Mesa in search of souls willing to share his belief, of the tickets he distributed, of the speeches delivered at Lions clubs, Elks clubs and organizations absent of animal references.
Steve Fisher will be forever tethered to basketball, but his reach extends far beyond a rim.
“I remember a time when I changed things up a little bit and started scheduling meetings with head coaches,” Sterk said. “Some of the head coaches weren’t showing up and he raised a stink. As a peer in our building, he really exemplifies doing things the right way.”
A sentiment echoed by SDSU president Dr. Elliot Hirshman.
“We talk a lot about winning the right way, and that’s what Coach Fisher has really exemplified,” Hirshman said. “We’ve obviously had extraordinary success, but we’ve had success in a way that has brought players together as a family and has allowed those young men to move forward in their lives and be successful. That has been a model for the entire athletic department to follow and emulate.
“Coach Fisher is an incredibly kind and generous person. And that comes through in every interaction he has. He’s beloved because of the program he’s built, but also, like other icons of sport, the kindness he’s shown toward the community.”
The response? The 2015-16 campaign marks the fourth straight year that the Aztecs have sold out on a season-ticket basis. As of early September, the current wait list for season tickets was more than 750, with SDSU still accepting wait-list deposits for future seasons at GoAztecs.com.
“I knew what I was getting into when I came here…a little bit,” said Fisher, who is entering his 17th season. “I also knew that we would have a great opportunity to win and create a good program. But you can also look around the country at other good programs where the fan base and is kind of apathetic and disinterested. I’ve had so many people tell me that we’ve energized a city to the point where they look forward to basketball season, and I’m immensely appreciative of all of the people who have become engaged and supportive of our program.”
A program once perilously close to perishing.
“When I got here, most people said that he’ll either be fired in five years or less or strike lightning in a bottle and leave,” Fisher said. “That was never, ever my intent. This is a great university in a world-class city with prideful, excited alumni and fans. I don’t have to tell anyone who has been in (Viejas Arena) that this is big-time college basketball. Our students are involved more than anywhere I’ve ever seen. We’re a hard team to beat anywhere, but we’re an almost impossible team to beat at home.”
Under the guidance of a coach almost impossible to beat as a human being.
Article Courtesy: Mick McGrane, @GoAztecs Senior Writer