Some good news for Winthrop men’s basketball fans who watched their team struggle to cope with Asheville’s big guards in last Sunday’s Big South title game: the Eagles have one of their own on the way.
Six-foot-4, 200-pound guard Patrick Fisher visited Winthrop for the season opener at home against Hampton last November and became the Eagles’ first 2016-17 signee several weeks later. The native Californian had little knowledge of Winthrop before the school began to recruit him, outside of remembering the Eagles’ NCAA tournament win over Notre Dame about nine years ago.
“I knew it was in South Carolina,” Fisher said Thursday morning. “Definitely know a good amount now.”
While the Eagles were scrapping with Asheville’s long and rangy backcourt in the Big South championship, Fisher – who goes by “Pat,” “Patrick,” or “Patty” – was helping his Vermont Academy team to the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council title, capping a 27-win season.
Fisher won 51 games combined the last two seasons in Vermont, as well as an EYBL division championship with Boston Amateur Basketball Club, one of the top AAU programs in the country. He captained both teams.
“It’s smart to not always recruit the 20-point scorer,” said Fisher’s coach at Vermont Academy, Alex Popp. If a coach does, “who’s gonna bring the intangibles?”
A laundry list of mid-major schools, ranging from San Diego, to the Missouri Valley Conference with Northern Iowa and Bradley, to the Ivy League and Columbia, offered Fisher. With Winthrop, Popp said the difference for his player was “the atmosphere. He could tell that basketball is important. Every recruiter says it but when you see it on the visit it’s different.”
Watching Winthrop knock off Hampton 102-95 last November, Fisher got a good taste of the team’s preferred style under coach Pat Kelsey.
“I love the way they play,” he said. “Really good pace. Put a lot of points up and get a lot of good shots.”
Fisher also connected with Kelsey, one of the first things he told Popp when he returned to Vermont from his official visit. Fisher liked Winthrop’s proximity to Charlotte; the future finance major saw the neighboring city’s banking setup as ripe for career opportunities. And the weather is considerably more mild than Vermont.
“It was just everything I could have wanted,” he said. “Definitely really excited about it.”
Fisher will arrive in Rock Hill in early June. He’ll travel south directly from Vermont, a transition that should be easier than leaving 75-degree California for the four seasons – and brutal winters – of the Green Mountain State. After living on his own for two years, Fisher should transition well to college life.
Winthrop assistant Brian Kloman was the first of the Eagles’ coaching staff to make contact with Fisher, spotting him at a Vermont Academy open gym. While Fisher’s passing and driving abilities on offense would have been obvious, Kloman no doubt noticed his defense too.
Popp’s program is big on charting deflections – sound familiar Winthrop fans? – and Fisher averaged about eight a game this season for the Wildcats. Popp said Fisher has quick hands and great instincts, and is an adept swiper at nearby ball-handlers.
The NEPSAC is one of the premier prep basketball conferences in the country, full of academically rigorous schools like Vermont Academy. Located in Saxon’s River, a town lifted right off the pages of an L.L. Bean catalog, the 140-year old boarding school recently increased its focus on hoops.
En route to this year’s NEPSAC title, Popp’s team broke every huddle with “No rebounds, no rings.”
Fisher and “our guards were a big part of that,” Popp said.
Fisher was a stat-stuffer for Vermont Academy in every other way, too. He averaged 15.2 points, 6.6 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 88 percent from the foul line. As a point guard, Fisher’s game is driving to score or kick out to shooters, and he mentioned that another draw to Winthrop was Kelsey’s use of multiple point guards on the floor at once. He added that he needs to improve his outside shooting.
Vermont Academy’s championship game tipped off 30 minutes after Winthrop’s last Sunday, so Fisher didn’t get to watch. He did see Kelsey, Josh Davenport and Jimmy Gavin’s postgame comments.
“It must be tough but I love how Gavin and coach Kelsey said we’ll brush this off and we’ll be ready next time,” Fisher said. “That just got me really fired up to get on campus. I can just tell guys are gonna be working their tails off to get back there and win it this time.”
Patrick Fisher’s stats – 15 points, 6.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game – came on a Vermont Academy team stocked with future Division I college basketball players. Those include Bruce Brown, a 6-foot-5 guard committed to Miami (Fla.), Tyrique Jones, a 6-foot-9 big committed to Xavier, 6-foot-7 junior guard Christian David, who has offers from Baylor, Creighton, Illinois and others.
Two other juniors, 6-foot-5 swing man Bailey Patella and 6-foot-7 guard Kendrick Gray, have also emerged as promising prospects. Winthrop offered Gray a scholarship last summer and extended one to Patella in late January, according to VerbalCommits.com.