(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Remember the Name

I have a hunch, and I don't go on hunches. I suppose that somehow, some way, going with your gut is different from going on a hunch, but I just cannot explain it. I don't know enough about this particular player to say I have a gut feeling that he's going to be a very good one, but I have some inkling that he'll play for some serious money once he's done playing his college basketball.

(In contrast, when I saw a young low-round draft pick pitch for the Red Sox AA affiliate several years ago, my gut feeling told me that this kid, who pitched complete games, didn't walk many batters and gave up very few earned runs, would be a very good pitcher in the majors. It took a little while, and he had to recover from an injury, but now Carl Pavano is the toast of the free agent class and the subject of a bidding war among teams that will make serious runs for the World Series in the next several years).

So who is this kid? First, he's not a baseball player. He's a college basketball player. Second, while his team is undefeated, I don't think anyone is expecting a whole lot out of them this year. Perhaps an NIT berth, but I don't think that a trip to the Big Dance is in the cards. Still, his story is an interesting one, and he's been to the Big Dance before.

Which is where I first saw him, a gangly kid out of a Philadelphia suburb who no one in Philadelphia really knew about because he hardly spent any time in HS in the Philadelphia area. He went to two different Philadelphia area high schools and four in four years, as his college bio points out. So, it wasn't like he was heralded the way a Mustafa Shakur was, or a Hakim Warrick, a John Salmons, a Matt (or Pat) Carroll. No, he was just some kid who would take a more circular route to the big time, or, at least, a bigger time.

I saw him three years ago, in the play-in game to the NCAA Tournament, where he led his school, Northwestern State, to a victory over Winthrop, with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 9 (yes 9!) blocked shots. When they said he was from Philadelphia, I was thinking how did St. Joe's, Temple or LaSalle miss this kid? Or Villanova, even?

They missed him because either they didn't know he was there, he flew under the radar screen, or he hadn't accomplished enough to make the coaches at those fabled programs notice him. So, Phil Martelli, John Chaney, Billy Hahn and Steve Lappas can be given a pass. Mostly everyone else missed this kid, too. Four high schools in four years? If he weren't 6'11", he might have been playing NAIA Division II ball in Northern Alaska.

But somehow he made it to Division I, to Northwestern State in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Say Natchitoches ten times in a row quickly if you can, and you'll get bonus points if you can tell me what conference Northwestern State plays in.

After he excelled at Northwestern State, D'Or Fischer transferred to West Virginia, where he is now a senior. The Mountaineers are 3-0, and Fischer is averaging 10 points, 6 boards and almost 3 blocks per game. He blocked 124 shots last season, good for second in the Big East (behind a kid named Okafor) and third in the country.

Now, his overall numbers aren't Emeka Okafor's numbers (whose are?) and he won't make anyone forget Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning or Shaquille O'Neal. Fair enough. But the college game isn't just for the blue chips, the kids who get their pictures in the back of the Blue Ribbon Guide while in HS or get featured in The Sporting News' feature magazine that is devoted exclusively to HS players. No, it's also about the kids who blossom late, who work their butts off at the low Division I schools, the junior colleges in the middle of nowhere (such as the one that Arthur Agee went to in Hoop Dreams), who then emerge onto the scene with their play exclaiming, "Hey, take a look at me, I can play this game with anyone."

Because those kids are worth watching too. And on that one night in March of 2001, there was the gangly kid from Philadelphia (and a few other places) who blocked 9 shots with a large group of NCAA hoop fans watching. That night was D'Or Fischer's coming out party, and he's made the most of his opportunities ever since.

Al McGuire would have called him an "Aircraft Carrier."

The kids in Philadelphia's famed Sonny Hill League would call him a ball player.

So remember the name, D'Or Fischer.

And try to catch a West Virginia game this year.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just came across this story today and I must say: "Awesome Coverage". D'or Fischer is a diamond in the rough. He has triumped through trial, error and pure determination when the odds were sometimes against him. He has worked hard and he will continue to work hard at becoming not only the best ball player but becoming that victorious "underdog". He has the potential of being molded into a "great-one".

8:47 PM  
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