Commentary

How Steve Fisher got back on top

The Fab Five coach helms an elite program again, and here's the blueprint

Originally Published: January 26, 2011
By Doug Gottlieb | ESPN.Com
Steve FisherGetty ImagesSteve Fisher is leading what's arguably the best program on the West Coast these days.

For some, the emergence of the San Diego State Aztecs this season could be seen as a shock. It wasn't long ago that the Aztecs didn't register at all on the college hoops radar. Now here they stand No. 4 in both polls and -- per Joe Lunardi -- could end up as a No. 1 seed in the Dance. SDSU has virtually no basketball history to speak of before the 12-year run of Steve Fisher & Co., so how did this once-unnoticed program reach the upper echelon of college hoops?

If you take a look at San Diego State's 2010-11 roster and how the Aztecs landed their players, you can start to see how SDSU has been built into a power in Southern California.

Kawhi Leonard: California Player of the Year -- but lightly regarded as a PF option, so no Pac-10 schools offered him a scholarship. Leonard might have the biggest hands of any player his size in college hoops and is a great rebounder, but several Pac-10 coaches were not convinced his game would translate to their level. They were wrong.

Malcolm Thomas: San Diego High School product who was part of a package deal to go to Pepperdine and play for Vance Walberg. When Walberg resigned, the high-scoring frosh landed at San Diego City College, then stayed home at SDSU.

Billy White: A fairly well recruited player who is a bit of a tweener out of Las Vegas; a good veteran scorer who has gotten better every season.

D.J. Gay: A lightly recruited scoring lead guard from L.A.'s Sun Valley, an outstanding student who is allowed to play his game and score more than facilitate. He's also a very confidence-inspiring player.

Tim Shelton: From Bakersfield, Shelton came over with assistant Justin Hutson. He's been a good solid interior rebounder who can score.

Chase Tapley: A solid scoring guard from Sacramento, Tapley is another good find in an under-recruited area of California.

Brian Carlwell: A transfer from Illinois, Carlwell is a big body who gives the Aztecs a legit low-post defender and big body against the few opponents they have faced with size.

Starting to detect a trend? Finding overlooked and cast-off players was only part of the formula -- and the program has been burned by some of those players in the past. But you don't build a program of San Diego State's caliber by simply relying on player talent. With that in mind, here are 10 more keys to the Aztecs' winning equation.