June 6, 2014
This edition of the Nova Notebook, by director of media relations Mike Sheridan, profiles former Villanova standout guard Corey Fisher, who recently completed his third season as a professional in Krasnoyarsk, Russia.
Those who have settled in spots far from home and beyond the scope of the familiar know well the drill. Corey Fisher came to learn it quickly last summer after he followed up two outstanding seasons of professional basketball in Turkey and Spain with an agreement to play for BC Yenisey Krasnoyarsk in northern Russia.
Fisher's next basketball stop would take him to a part of Russia that many knew only through its frigid winter temperatures: Siberia.
"When I first signed, people were calling me," he recalls. "They said we know you signed with a top team, but why you are going to Siberia?"
And so it began. Fisher saw his Twitter feed bubble up with similar inquiries when the news was announced. Each asked a variation of the same question: why would a player of Fisher's sublime talent head so far from home in a place that seemed far removed from New York or Philadelphia?
The reasons are varied and no doubt start with the fact that he was well-compensated to do so. In the larger view though the choice revels a simple truth: Corey Fisher, son of the Bronx, brings with him not only an assortment of on-court talents known to wow crowds across the globe but also a clear-eyed understanding of what it means to be a professional and how best to maximize those gifts.
One thing Fisher can confirm: none of those cold winter mornings when he hustled to catch a subway out of the Bronx to make his way to St. Patrick's High School across the Hudson River in New Jersey approaches what the people of Krasnoyarsk deal with through the dark months.
"There is no winter like a Russian winter," Fisher says.
And yet Fisher has only kind words for the people of Russia, the city of Krasnoyarsk and his experience there. Basketball matters and the support he received, from the team and its supporters, was first rate. His daily transportation needs were covered by a driver hired by the organization and an English translator was available when needed. Many of his teammates spoke English and Fisher's ability to share the basketball has a way of removing communication barriers.
"Russia is real nice," states Fisher of his year there. "They treat you like a professional. We weren't too far from Moscow and we got to see a lot of the country."
Through his first three seasons, Fisher has adapted well to three distinctly different international areas in Antalya, Turkey; Badalona, Spain; and Krasnoyarsk. Internet access helps and so too does the presence of his fiancée and young daughter. Yet the fact remains that some American expatriates of considerable gifts never found a comfort level abroad and retreated quickly back to the United States.
"You might be on a team with three guys from America, a couple of guys from Turkey, another guy from Spain, one from Russia," he explains. "It's good because you are different people coming together for a common goal. The other thing is that in Europe, they are real fans over there and they love the Americans. If you go to the right place, the right situation, you have a good time."
Fisher did have a transition period in his early days as a citizen abroad. Yet he and his agent have been measured in their approach to his career. They have targeted quality teams in vibrant cities accustomed to hosting Americans and signed one year deals. It also has helped that Fisher's flair has created demand for him in Europe's highest basketball classification.
"My first year I struggled with the food," he notes, "but once you get comfortable, it's like being at home."
Though he graduated in 2011, Fisher has never been too far removed from Villanova in spirit. He resides in South Jersey when not overseas and kept tabs on the 2013-14 Wildcats via the internet, taking particular pride in the work of James Bell, whom he helped mentor as a senior. What's more, he credits his Nova Nation family for helping give him the tools to adapt so seamlessly to this chapter of his basketball journey.
"Everybody, from Coach (Jay) Wright on down, prepared me for this," he states. "I'm happy I came to Villanova. Over there, you've got guys who are 14 being paid a lot of money and treated like men. It's like Coach Wright says, you've got to be both physically strong and mentally strong. You're on your own. If you're late for practice, there's no pay. It's a job."
And one that comes with a healthy supply of external pressure. Overseas pro teams are typically limited to signing no more than 2-3 Americans so those who ink deals are expected to produce as expected. Shooting slumps have been known to cost players their spots with little notice.
"When you are playing at the highest level, there is a lot that comes with it," he states. "They bring you over there to perform. You've got two choices - perform your best or you're going to have to look for another job."
Fisher is a free agent with a busy summer ahead. He will be married next month and must also contemplate his next basketball move. There have been overtures from National Basketball Association organizations, who have noted Fisher's success abroad. An invitation to a training camp with a partial guarantee could be on the horizon but that offers no certitude. Accepting a contract of that ilk would also mean declining some lucrative European contracts to play the full year or perhaps two (most top level teams begin assembling for practice in August).
"Now the ball's in my court, I can make my decision about what comes next," he says sounding like a man happy to have some intriguing options available.
It is true that for Fisher, like most of his peers, the NBA is a dream destination. But he is in every sense a professional who recognizes that there are exciting European opportunities available that at least for now, probably offer more financial rewards given that such pacts cover both living expenses and taxes.
"The (NBA) dream is still there," he says. "But it's a business too. I talk about this with Coach Wright all the time. I've got some big decisions to make."
In his own mind, Fisher remains a Villanova guard at heart. He has joined former teammates Dwayne Anderson, Antonio Pena, Scottie Reynolds, and Mouphtaou Yarou and several more this weekend for a tournament at Philadelphia University. Thanks to Skype and international calling plans, he remains tight with his ex-mates. And if he ever needs a reminder of his glory days here, one usually isn't far away.
"We have a lot of fans in Europe," he says. "I go to a game and am walking to my car and I run into five guys. Their English is just OK but they're wearing Villanova t-shirts. Villanova is everywhere and that's a good thing."
So now you know. Siberia, it seems, is part of the Nova Nation too.