Tay Fisher admits that the thought of transferring out of Siena flashed through his head.
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It’s inevitable, when there’s a coaching change. In fact, two players did leave, along with two highly regarded recruits, after Fran McCaffery took over for Rob Lanier in 2005.
Fisher stayed. He lost his starting job, he lost minutes, but he never lost his way, and now, the 5-foot-9 senior from Kingston is reaping the rewards of his perseverance more richly than he ever imagined.
Sure, plenty of people believed the Saints were going to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament this year, including Fisher. The way they did it, though, with Fisher, the only senior on the roster, becoming the star of the championship game on his birthday … well, you can’t make this stuff up.
Fisher has at least one more game to play, against Vanderbilt in the NCAA tournament on Friday, but a slide show of his entire four-year career has already flickered through his head.
“It flashed in front of my face as soon as the [MAAC championship] game was over with, and I saw everybody rush on the court,” Fisher said. “It was such a different feeling. I thought it was going to be similar to Stanford, but it was just so different. It had a different meaning to it.
“For it to be on my birthday with this team, and I had the net around my neck. I was telling everybody else that net has a lot of memory on there, from that first year.”
Fisher referred to a 6-24 nightmare that got Lanier fired. Fisher started 10 of 30 games that season, averaging 19.7 minutes.
When McCaffery was hired, Jack McClinton transferred to the University of Miami, and Kojo Mensah followed a year later, leaving for Duquesne.
McClinton, who was MAAC all-rookie in 2004-05, led the Hurricanes in scoring at 17.0 points per game this season, starting 28 of 30 games. Miami is a No. 7 seed, and will face No. 10 Saint Mary’s in the South region on Friday.
Mensah was the second-leading scorer for the Dukes, who finished 17-13, and didn’t make the postseason.
Fisher, a three-point specialist and a quick defender as a two guard, landed a big role on McCaffery’s first team by default. Injuries and the departure of players left the Saints with a roster that was short of bodies and short of stature, but they played a running game and surprised some bigger teams to go 15-13, as Fisher started all 28 games, and averaged 33 minutes a game.
Last year, with an influx of McCaffery’s recruits, Fisher’s playing time plummeted, to 14.9 minutes per game, and only five starts.
“That was my first time actually feeling down with basketball, because I love basketball so much,” Fisher said. “I just wanted to be part of the team, and I wasn’t really getting the minutes that I got with him. It was dropping six, seven, 10, and I also lost my starting spot, so I kind of felt like things weren’t going my way.
“I thought about it [transferring] when he first came in, because all my other players left, too. I didn’t know what to expect.”
This season, Fisher’s minutes were up only a little bit, in part because he got 10 starts due to injuries, but his role has never been bigger. How many teams have a co-captain who comes off the bench?
Fisher did that with unwavering enthusiasm and professionalism, setting an example for his younger teammates and rousing their spirits with pregame speeches. On Senior Night, they all paid tribute by wearing white headbands, Fisher’s trademark.
He saved his best for last, making six of 10 threes and scoring 21 points as Siena ripped Rider in the MAAC championship game.
It’s hard to tell what kind of impact he’ll have against Vanderbilt, which is tall at guard. That could hinder his shooting; it could also be a benefit, if he can use his quickness to beat the Commodores to his spots.
“Not just the first year, but throughout my life, it was tough just for me to get here, only being 5-9 and not being a point guard. I worked really hard for this,” he said.
“I did what any other player would do, and that was think about leaving. But when I make a commitment, I stick with it. My commitment was to stay here for four years. That’s exactly what I did, and look what the outcome is.”
“I can’t say enough about this guy on my right,” McCaffery said from the interview stage after the MAAC title game. “He stuck it out. Everybody else bailed on us. But he believed, and he stayed.”