Albany County

Fisher leading Siena men’s basketball into season’s final stretch

Senior's focus for the last year: 'What can I do to make this work?'
Evan Fisher, right, directs Siena teammates during a recent game.
Evan Fisher, right, directs Siena teammates during a recent game.

LOUDONVILLE — He never considered leaving, as so many of his Siena College men’s basketball teammates did. Instead, throughout a difficult spring last year, a question guided Evan Fisher as he headed toward an uncertain senior year.

“What can I do to make this work?”

Fisher answered that question most emphatically last April. Hours after former Saints head coach Jimmy Patsos resigned after an 8-24 season and amid a school investigation into the conduct of his coaching staff, Siena held a brief press conference to address the situation and the path forward. Athletic director John D’Argenio could have done the session with area reporters alone, but the decision was made to see if Fisher would come field questions, too.

Once asked, Fisher agreed to show up to start the process of rebuilding the Saints, not knowing if the program’s next coach would have any use for a 6-foot-9 forward with one year of eligibility left whose college career had featured more downs than ups in its first three seasons.

“I thought it was difficult, but I thought the entire situation was difficult. I was happy, though, to step up and help Siena and my teammates through it,” said Fisher, one of the few veteran figures that remained with the program. “I knew if my teammates saw me turn away and not want to speak, it would make them feel like they had something to fear. So I wanted to get up there and do whatever I could for the school so we could get it all past us. I wanted to get through it, meet the new guy and hit the ground running.”

Nearly a year later, Fisher and the Saints find themselves in the unlikely position as one of the contenders for the upcoming MAAC tournament in Albany. Depending on results from Sunday’s 2 p.m. regular-season finale for Siena at Niagara and contests from around the rest of the league, the Saints will end up anywhere from the fourth to the sixth seed for the tournament housed in its home arena.

It’s hard to look at how the last year has played out for the Saints and not recognize the large role Fisher played in making such a turnaround possible. New head coach Jamion Christian provided the vision and freshman guard Jalen Pickett offered the most on-court production, but Fisher’s been the heartbeat of these Saints, who have already won seven more games than they did a season ago.

“He,” Pickett said, “is our leader.”

Christian found that out early in his tenure with the Saints. Christian had liked Fisher when the coach was at Mount St. Mary’s and Fisher was playing high school basketball in Maryland, so that Fisher has developed into a potential All-MAAC selection hasn’t surprised him.

But the results from a team-building exercise before the start of this season struck Christian. The coach had divided his players and team managers into small groups, and asked each group to pick the three Saints they’d most want in a foxhole with them.

“Every group picked Fisher,” Christian said. “He was the only person every group picked.”

Fisher is an easy teammate to like because of the passion he brings to the court and the selfless nature with which he plays. While he averages 15.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, his top contribution for the Saints is how he anchors their MAAC-best defense with his smarts and constant communication.

“They trust him. They trust he always has their back,” Christian said. “They trust that they always have his loyalty.”

A lot of that goes back to the way Fisher handled the end of his junior season. The team’s player leader was supposed to be Nico Clareth, but Clareth was gone from the program by midseason and Fisher — playing significant minutes for the first time at Siena — became the team’s spokesman during a tumultuous campaign.

Then came that press conference in mid-April when he showed up so his teammates could be spared.

They remember that.

“He handled himself like a true professional. He gave honest answers without wording things wrong, or putting himself in a bad light or the school in a bad light,” Siena junior Thomas Huerter said. “He handled the whole thing so well, and that gave confidence to everyone around him that . . . we were going to move through it all and we were going to make sure that we did the right things from here on out as we moved forward.”

“Evan,” D’Argenio said, “was the person we thought could speak well to [the situation] and knew he was somebody the other players on the team would respect what he said and how he said it.”

Christian said he always envisioned Fisher playing a large role for the Saints this season. Fisher, though, is smart and understands how college basketball works, which means he knew a new coach owed him nothing.

“That period of uncertainty — what made it tough was there were no guarantees for me. All the work I’d put in my first three years to get onto the court for one coach, I knew it might not lead to [meaning anything] the next year for me,” said Fisher, who has scored more points this season than in his first three combined. “But you have to have faith in yourself, believe in yourself and believe you’re going to be one of the guys out there.”

Fisher said he has not spoken to Patsos in the last year. At times, Fisher has made remarks regarding his appreciation for Christian’s coaching style that suggest his displeasure for how things were handled under the program’s previous coaching staff, but he hasn’t openly discussed the behind-the-scenes issues with the 2017-18 Siena season.

Instead, his focus this last year has been a straightforward, and forward-looking, one.

“What can I do to make this work?”

Fisher’s college career could have days or weeks left. That’s “surreal” for Fisher who showed up at Siena as a stretch big man with long hair and will leave it as a traditional big with a tidy hairstyle.

“I want to win, but I also want to embrace the moment fully — the good and the bad,” Fisher said. “In the back of my mind, I know these are my last few days, but, at the same time, you have to forget that.”

After his time at Siena, Fisher’s not sure what’s next. That immediate future could include playing professional basketball overseas, but he won’t put much thought into that until several weeks after whenever his senior season concludes.

He knows, though, what he wants from his years at Siena, a place where Fisher made things work.

“I just want to have a positive legacy after I leave here,” Fisher said.

Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.

Categories: College Sports, Sports

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