(Entering 2012-13 Season)
Steve Fisher has guided the San Diego State basketball program to
unparalleled heights. In 13 seasons, he has taken a program that
regularly missed out on the conference postseason tournament, to one
which has become one of the best programs on the West Coast and in
the Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll.
The best news for San Diego State fans is that the school
exercised its option on Fisher's contract prior to the 2009-10
campaign, which will keep the national championship coach in San
Diego for the foreseeable future.
When Fisher arrived on the scene in March of 1999, he found a
basketball program that wasn't good enough to be called average. The
Aztecs had suffered through 13 losing seasons in 14 years. Members
of the school's last NCAA team were in the early stages of middle
age. The expectations were set. The Aztecs were expected to lose.
The year before Fisher's arrival on campus, San Diego State won just
Now those days are a distant memory. Fisher guided the Aztecs to
the NCAA Tournament in 2002, 2006, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and the postseason NIT
in 2003, 2007, 2008 and 2009, to go along with eight 20-win seasons.
In addition, San Diego State brings back a solid core of talented
players, including four starters and seven letterwinners.
This group is certainly ready to turn heads.
The ingredients for a successful basketball program seemed to have
arrived at San Diego State at approximately the same time Fisher
Viejas Arena, formerly Cox Arena, was one of the glaring athletic
upgrades on the west side of campus, and its opening signified the
new-placed emphasis on basketball in the Aztec athletic department.
The program moved from the aging San Diego Sports Arena on the west
side of the city to an on-campus home located just steps away from
fraternities and sororities.
After the arrival of Cox Arena, one important ingredient was
On March 26, 1999, SDSU announced its arrival on the basketball
scene in a news conference to introduce its new coach, Steve Fisher.
Fresh from a stint with the Sacramento Kings and with three
appearances in the Final Four and a national championship in his
pocket, he rolled up his sleeves and went to work. And work was
needed. It looked to be a daunting challenge and yet the man with
one of the highest winning percentages in NCAA Tournament history
had no reservations.
"We have everything here that we need to be successful at the
highest level," Fisher said at the time. "We have a great campus in
a great city. The arena is as good of a facility as you can find.
Our league is very good and getting better. Who wouldn't want to
Coming off a 4-22 season, not much was expected of the Aztecs in
the new coach's first year. The Aztecs finished 5-23 but never
stopped working. The last game of the season was a near upset of
UNLV in the first round of the MWC Tournament. The eventual
champions bested the Aztecs in the final minutes.
"We worked hard - we just weren't good enough," Fisher said of
his first group of Aztecs. "They tried to do everything we wanted,
but we spent the year dodging bullets."
It was year two, the 2000-01 campaign, when Fisher and SDSU served
notice that better days were ahead and some, in fact, had arrived.
The Aztecs were one of the nation's most improved teams, finishing
the year at 14-14 and in the process, ending several
less-than-flattering streaks, including a long road losing streak, a
long conference losing streak and an overall losing streak.
Attendance jumped by an astounding 73 percent and by spring, the
stars of tomorrow became more receptive when Fisher and his staff
came calling to talk about Aztec basketball.
And then came year three. An indifferent start gave way to a
downright slow beginning to conference play. But the Aztecs then
unveiled a trait that has become synonymous with Steve Fisher teams.
They played their best when it mattered most.
The Aztecs roared down the stretch, winning eight of their final
10 games and climbing to .500 in Mountain West play, a major step
for San Diego State basketball.
Then came March, a month that has always been magical for Steve
The Aztecs headed to Las Vegas and picked up three straight wins
to claim their first Mountain West title, including victories over
top-seeded Wyoming and home-standing UNLV.
The season ended with a 21-12 record and continued the upward
surge of the program. And SDSU was close to so much more. The Aztecs
dropped three overtime games, lost a hard-fought battle at Utah and
went on the road to push Duke. San Diego State reached 21 wins for
the first time since the 1984-85 season and returned to the NCAA
Tournament for the first time since that same '84-85 team.
Along the way there were more glaring landmarks. SDSU picked up
its first win at New Mexico since 1984 and swept the Colorado
State-Wyoming swing, considered one of the toughest in college
basketball, for the first time ever.
However, it is what lies ahead and not the past that continues to
drive the energetic Fisher.
"I have never said I wanted the program in a certain place by a
certain time," he said. "You just work hard, prepare well and try to
get lucky. We have probably done a little bit of each."
The Aztecs proved that they were more than a one-hit wonder in
2002-03 by returning to the postseason and claiming their first
postseason victory in 33 seasons at the Division I level. San Diego
State concluded its third straight season with a .500 or better
record by going 16-14 and advancing to the second round of the NIT.
Along the way, the Aztecs played before two sellout crowds in Cox
Arena en route to shattering the home attendance average (7,172).
Although SDSU struggled the following two seasons, Fisher and the
Aztecs enjoyed one of the best seasons in school history in 2005-06.
Expectations were high from the outset as the conference media
picked SDSU as the team to beat in the MWC, something that had never
happened in the Scarlet and Black's Division I history. In addition,
the league media also bestowed on SDSU the titles of player of the
year (Marcus Slaughter), first-team all-conference (Slaughter and
Brandon Heath) and newcomer of the year (Mohamed Abukar).
And that was just the beginning. San Diego State won a then
Division I school-record 24 games, the regular season conference
crown and the league tournament title en route to a bid in the NCAA
Tournament. At season's end, Brandon Heath had been named an AP
honorable mention All-American, the MWC player of the year and a
first-team all-league selection, while teammates Marcus Slaughter (MWC
tournament MVP, first-team all-MWC) and Mohamed Abukar (second-team
all-conference) also garnered attention.
The success from the Aztecs' magical year continued in 2006-07 as
SDSU went on to win its first eight games, marking the best start to
a season by a Fisher-coached team, and posted its second straight
20-plus win season with a record of 22-11, something that had not
been accomplished on Montezuma Mesa during the Aztecs' time as a
Division I program. In the process, SDSU earned a spot in the
MasterCard NIT and captured its first Division I postseason road
victory before falling in the second round.
In 2007-08, the winning trend was carried on by a junior-laden
team that finished with a 20-13 record and another appearance in the
postseason NIT. The Aztecs became the first team in the school's
Division I history to record three straight 20-win seasons and three
consecutive postseason berths.
Then came 2008-09 when those aforementioned streaks were extended
to four straight seasons after Fisher led San Diego State to a 26-10
record and an appearance in the semifinals of the NIT. The 26
victories represented a new school record.
Despite losing 4,291 career points from the 2008-09 squad, Fisher
and the 2009-10 Aztecs made it a point to not have a drop off, even
with six newcomers. San Diego State finished with a 25-9 record, won
the school's MWC tournament title and advanced to the NCAA
Tournament for the first time since 2006. SDSU was led by a freshman
in Kawhi Leonard, who became the first freshman in Mountain West
history to be voted onto the all-conference first team, all while
being named league freshman of the year and MWC tournament MVP.
SDSU's winning ways do not look as if they will come to an end
anytime soon either. Fisher is set to return all five starters this
season and excitement surrounding the program is at an all-time
high, both locally and nationally.
Prior to arriving in San Diego, Fisher spent one season as an
assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings. However, he is best known
for his efforts at the collegiate level. He became a household name
at Michigan, where he transformed a prominent program into a
perennial national championship contender and winner. Returning to
the college game was returning home.
"I enjoyed the NBA," Fisher said. "It was all basketball all the
time. But I always felt I belonged in the college game. If I have a
calling, it is as a teacher. I enjoy teaching basketball. I think it
is what I do best."
That point would be hard to argue.
No head-coaching career, at any level, started quicker than that
of Steve Fisher. Six games into his head-coaching career he was
undefeated and sporting a national championship ring. And the
success didn't stop with the national title.
Fisher spent eight-plus seasons, won an NCAA title and an NIT
championship and carved out one of the most glamorous periods in
college basketball history during the Fab Five years.
Under Fisher, the Wolverines won at least 20 games four times and
finished among the top three in the powerful Big Ten Conference five
times. In 1995, Michigan set a league record by holding opponents to
just 39.4 percent shooting from the floor.
Fisher and company raised the bar even higher in the postseason.
His seven NCAA Tournament teams combined for a 20-6 record on the
court for a winning percentage of .769 in the national bracket.
Three of his teams advanced to the Final Four.
Just seven head coaches have led schools to the championship of the
NIT as well as the NCAA. The others to accomplish that feat are
Bobby Knight, Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Al McGuire, Dean Smith and