Fischer takes long road to NCAA tourney

Fischer takes long road to NCAA tourney

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Add the story of D'or Fischer to the long list of NCAA Tournament first-round, feel-good fables.

It is one of those classic boy-meets-basketball, Cinderella stories that help add a fairy-tale aura to the madness of March.

And this one will grow from fable to legend if Fischer n a 6-foot-11 Philadelphian who did not play basketball in high school n helps the Northwestern State Demons author the most epic upset in NCAA Tournament history against fourth-ranked Illinois on Friday in Dayton, Ohio.

Fischer and the Demons will be looking to become the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 when they square off against the Midwest Region's top dog beginning at 11:10 a.m. Friday at the University of Dayton Arena.

Of course, the freshman big man and his mates already have accomplished one NCAA first. They became the first No. 16 to win a tournament game Tuesday night, when Fischer narrowly missed the second triple-double of his young cage career in a 71-67 play-in victory over Winthrop.

Fischer's 10-point, 11-rebound, nine-block night certainly got the attention of Illinois coach Bill Self and the Illini players Self gathered to watch the game.

"They got our respect,'' Self said. "There were several guys who walked out of there saying ‘Good gosh, that big guy's good.' ''

Luckily for Demons coach Mike McConathy, not many big-time college talent scouts were thinking the same thing when they walked out of a showcase camp at Itawamba Community College in Fulton, Miss., two years ago.

Fischer had landed there after winning some attention while playing pick-up hoops on the Mississippi Air Force base where he had gone to live with his sister.

McConathy said Northwestern State assistant coach Dave Simmons saw something others did not.

"Coach came home and said he didn't know, but that this guy was somebody we might need to take a chance on,'' McConathy said. "I asked, ‘Can we put him somewhere in a junior college and Dave said, ‘You'll never get him back.' From that point we tried to get him.''

It took some time.

Because he hadn't played basketball at Upper Darby High School in Philadelphia, Fischer hadn't even bothered to take the SAT. He tried once in the summer of 1999, but failed. McConathy said the player considered enrolling at Northwestern State on his own, but that didn't work out.

So, instead, he sat out a year, continued to live with his sister at the Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi and also managed to grow three inches.

Schools like Tulane, Mississippi State and Ole Miss took notice, but Fischer's heart already belonged to the Southland Conference Demons in Natchitoches, La.

"I trusted the coaching staff,'' Fischer explained in his NSU media guide entry.

Even Illini coach Self is a fan of Fischer's feel-good fable.

"So many times people think that recruiting is Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, Duke, Illinois n whoever the high majors are n getting the top 50 players,'' said the young Illini coach, who once tried to recruit a McConathy-coached juco named Oral Roberts to a Self-coached mid-major institution named Oral Roberts.

"But the best recruiting is done at schools that don't get exposure going and finding diamonds in the rough. To think that this young man is just a freshman and he came to Louisiana from Philly speaks volumes for their recruiting.

"He is skilled at any level, but I expect him to be dominant in the Southland.''

Actually, Fischer was something less than dominant in his initial college season. He entered the NCAA tourney averaging 5 points and 3.8 rebounds, but he did block nearly two shots per game while averaging fewer than 13 minutes per contest and he had at least a couple of games where his promise was obvious.

His college debut, in fact, was a 12-point, 11-board, six-block night against TCU, but it was a month-and-a-half before he shined brightly again. Wow, though, did he shine. Fischer blocked 12 shots n two shy of the NCAA single-game record n in a Jan. 22 home game vs. Southwest Texas State. He added 11 points and 14 rebounds.

McConathy said there was a common denominator to those two shining moments. TCU had a 6-10 center and Southwest Texas manned the middle with a 6-11 big man.

That means 6-9 Illinois center Marcus Griffin might want to bring his best on Friday.

"He's very limited in experience, but I think he'll be OK because he has had better games against bigger people,'' McConathy said.

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