May 28, 2010
The Nova Notebook, by director of media relations Mike Sheridan, catches up with Corey Fisher, a third team All-BIG EAST selection in 2009-10 who will return as one of the Wildcats' key leaders as a senior in 2010-11.
Even as he spends a few days back at home, in the Bronx, N.Y., catching his breath after final exams while awaiting the start of summer session, Corey Fisher's mind is never far from Villanova. It is the place where he will focus all his energy after a 2009-10 basketball season filled with so many highlights that ended abruptly in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Providence, R.I.
For all of the disappointment he wore on his face in a somber Villanova locker room that day at the Dunkin Donuts' Center after the Wildcats had been vanquished by St. Mary's, Fisher is, at heart, a realist. He understands better than most that it is impossible to alter the past, no matter how painful it may have been.
"I wanted to go back to the Final Four," states Fisher, who was named third team All-BIG EAST and first team All-Philadelphia Big Five for his efforts as a junior on a `Cat squad that finished the season with a record of 25-8. "Our whole team and our whole coaching staff would have liked that too.
"We know that some people look at us losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament as a down year. But for us, it just lets us know what we have to do to get better. That season is over and all we can do is come back to school and work hard to be the best team we can be."
The reality of a first weekend knockout was a new experience for most of the Wildcats, Fisher included. As a freshman in 2007-08, Fisher and Corey Stokes were part of a late-season surge that took VU to the Sweet 16 and a loss at the hands of eventual NCAA champion Kansas. A year later, the `Cats thrived in March, defeating UCLA, Duke and Pittsburgh en route to the Final Four in Detroit.
So the sudden exit by a deep team that had been ranked among the nation's top 10 teams every week of the regular season was jarring.
"It was tough," states Fisher of the exit and the reaction it engendered after the squad was picked as a Final Four team by some, including the President of the United States. "We understand that people had a lot of hope for our team and we did too."
Fisher was one of the Wildcats who had a hard time finding his regular season groove in the NCAA Tournament against Robert Morris and Saint Mary's. Both he and Reynolds were held out of the starting lineup in the first round game against the Colonials by Wright in what the coach described as a minor misstep in game preparation. Fisher ultimately played 25 minutes in what became a 73-70 Wildcat victory but took only four shots. Two days later he returned to the starting lineup and played 29 minutes, scoring nine points as the Gaels ended VU's season.
In defeat matters tend to get magnified and it was no different for Fisher. The memories of his huge contributions in the previous two Marches seemed foggy and so too was the body of work that helped VU prosper throughout the season (13.5 ppg, a team-high 4.2 apg).
Yet the grit that allowed Fisher to rise into an elite prospect at St. Patrick's High School in New Jersey while commuting across the river from the Bronx has served him especially well this off-season. He has embraced the leadership role bestowed upon him by Wright and taken to heart the message of how quickly things can change in the crucible of March.
"I think one of the things that makes us Villanova is that we go out there and play through everything," Fisher notes. "We don't get caught up in what people are saying about us. There are going to be ups and downs. People get hurt and get into foul trouble. We take pride in pushing through that.
"We've got a lot of good guys coming back. We lose two great seniors in Scottie and Reggie Redding. Now, I've got to step up to be a leader of the team and we have young guys stepping up because they understand what it takes. I think it's going to be a good year."
Fisher, along with Stokes and Antonio Pena, are the team's core. They are being asked to set the tone and Wright expressed how pleased he was with the group as it led the team through spring workouts.
"We learned from the best - it goes back to Dwayne Anderson, Dante Cunningham, Shane Clark, Frank Tchuisi," says Fisher. "We were young and they did a great job leading us. Then we learned from Scottie and Reggie. We saw how much better we have got to get.
"All of them showed us what it takes to lead. We saw when you've got to be on them and when you should step back. Now, it's up to us and it's going to be fun. There are going to be ups and downs but you don't want it to be easy. You always want a challenge."
Fisher says, like Wright, he is pleased with the early returns. But the realist in him recognizes that May is rarely the time when leadership is tested in college basketball.
"It's been fun, but of course it's going to be fun now - there's no games, and we don't have to play against others," he says. "We can just do our own work and get ready for next season. But there'll come a time when we are tested and we just want these guys to know we'll be there for them when it comes."
For three years the Nova Nation has marveled at Fisher's electric moves with the ball and his ability to knife through defenders to the basket. He's also got the tools to create for others and is a willing defender. Now, comes that extra piece of maturity that Cunningham and Reynolds have worn so ably these past two seasons.
Fisher believes he is up to that challenge. His coaching staff agrees.
In many respects, the 2010-11 edition of Villanova Basketball will be Corey Fisher's team. It will depend on him not just for points and assists, but for perspective. In a locker room where his quick wit and infectious smile are already appreciated, he will now be asked to serve as a rudder. And he knows better than most that, while Stokes and Pena will be right there with him, Wright expects his senior lead guards to have especially strong shoulders.
All of the moments that led him here will no doubt play a role in taking this squad forward. Even the painful ones, few and far between though they have been.