San Diego basketball era ends

Steve Fisher retires after 18 seasons at SDSU

Ray San Giovanni, Sports Editor

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On April 11, an era of San Diego basketball came to an end. The news that so many San Diego basketball fans knew was coming, but hope would never come, finally became a reality. At the age of 72, Steve Fisher made the decision to retire after 18 seasons as the Head Coach of the San Diego State Aztecs.

Steve Fisher is perhaps more important to SDSU basketball than Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez was to the Sandlot. At first it was a struggle. When Fisher first took over the team, it very well could have been the worst team in the country. Even if you weren’t in San Diego, a 5-23 season is all you need to know. Since that year, Fisher has won 10 Mountain West Championships, taken his team to eight NCAA tournaments, six in a row at one point. His 2010-11 team was ranked at 4th in the country during the season, went 34-3, and made it to the Sweet 16. He was one of the best at developing young talent as seen with NBA star Kawhi Leonard who won MVP in 2014 and two Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2015 and 2016.

Fisher won the 1989 national title at Michigan. You might have heard of the FAB Five that he coached and recruited. In his retirement press conference Fisher referred to his past success. “When I came here, when I was introduced at San Diego State, the first thing I talked about was where I came from. I said if I’m three or five years from now talking about the Fab Five in the first paragraph, we’re not doing a very good job here. When I go to the Final Four now, when I went to Phoenix this year, I had people come up and say, Fish I love the job you guys are doing at San Diego State. Fish, tell me about Kawhi Leonard, tell me about what he did for the Aztecs.”

Fisher not only changed the basketball team forever, he transformed the student body at SDSU and their fans forever. The Aztecs have played in front of at least 11,000 fans for 85 straight regular season games and leads California in average attendance for home games.

Fisher informed Athletic Director John David Wicker and SDSU President Elliot Hirschman. Then called a team meeting after informing his staff. In an interview with the Union Tribune sophomore Jeremy Hemsley and Junior Trey Kell described their reactions after they received the news. “We thought it was about academics or something,” said Hensley. “Everyone in America was surprised” said Kell. Fisher told the UT “They were all flabbergasted. Nobody knew. They were all convinced I was coming back.”

It’s hard to let go of a Coach that is spoken with the names that changed San Diego sports forever like Tony Gwynn and Don Coryell. Tony and Don changed the way their sports were played, but Fisher created a winning culture for SDSU basketball. Nobody in San Diego cared about basketball before Fisher’s arrival. The city, after losing two basketball teams already, could have cared less about basketball. Fisher changed that and should be put in the San Diego Hall of Fame with Gwynn and Coryell.

Many around Fishers’ close circle in the program thought that Fishers’ son, who suffers from ALS, was the main reason Fisher decided to retire, but in his interview with the UT he says that was not the case. “The last 10 days, we talked about all the pros and cons, and Mark was involved in the we,” Fisher said. “Part of the reason I love being here is having Mark with me, and Mark said he feels good, he wants to stay. From that standpoint, that was a reason to come back. “We wrestled with it, Angie and I did, but our guys know once I make a decision, I don’t look back. I won’t second guess. In January, I won’t say: ‘Boy, I wish I wouldn’t have done that” said Fisher.

Fisher’s success was much of his own doing, but he also had a great supporting staff. Assistant Coach Brian Dutcher, who just finished his 18th year with the team and has been with Fisher from the beginning at SDSU. He was named Fisher’s successor/head coach in waiting in 2011.

Fisher will be remembered as the winningest coach in SDSU history to date as well as a great man and coach. His legacy will be carried on at SDSU through the culture that he built and the people that he influenced. In his exiting speech, Fisher explained what San Diego meant for him. “That is my legacy. San Diego State is my legacy. I’m proud of every step along the way in my journey, but I’m an Aztec. When people say, “Where do you live?” I say with pride, “San Diego.”

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San Diego basketball era ends