Aztecs move on after record-setting season

The San Diego State Aztecs will raise banners at Viejas Arena on

Friday night to commemorate their Mountain West Conference

regular-season and tournament titles, and their first-ever foray

into the NCAA’s round of 16.

After that, the Aztecs will move on and their record-setting

2010-11 season will be consigned to the rafters.

”There will be a little nostalgia leading into three games this

weekend, but nobody will be thinking about last year when we tip

the ball off against Bryant University,” coach Steve Fisher said.

”Once the ball goes up, we’ve got to find a way to get a

win.”

It’ll be a far different Aztecs team that will face Bryant in

the Basketball Travelers Classic than the one that walked off the

court after losing to Kemba Walker and eventual national champion

UConn in the NCAA tournament.

The Aztecs lost four starters, including super sophomore Kawhi

Leonard, who left for the NBA. San Diego State has only nine

scholarship players and it is not in The Associated Press Top 25,

where the Aztecs spent all of last season, reaching a high of No.

4.

There will be an inevitable dropoff, but Fisher still expects

the Aztecs to be respectable and for the fans to continue to flock

to Viejas Arena, which was the place to be in San Diego last

winter.

”I don’t think anybody expects us to have 34 wins,” Fisher

said. ”From a won-loss standpoint, it’s unreal to say we’ll have a

similar record, but I think we should be able to find a way to get

back to 20 wins. That won’t be easy, but it’s realistic. I think

that’s what people will expect.”

The Aztecs were off their charts last year, setting a school

record by going 34-3. They claimed their first-ever wins in the

NCAA tournament to reach the regional semifinals before losing to

UConn. It was their sixth straight 20-win season, and seventh in 12

years under Fisher.

Besides Leonard, they lost point guard D.J. Gay and forwards

Billy White and Malcolm Thomas. Additionally, big man Brian

Carlwell, who’d been injured earlier in his career, was denied a

sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA.

”To be honest, I don’t know that we’ve ever had such attrition

in terms of losing four starters and six guys, that amounted to a

huge part of what we were,” said Fisher, who has a huge recruiting

class coming in next season. ”So we’ve just got to have others who

will step in with the expectations they’ll have for themselves and

push that bar up higher and see if we can get more than some people

think we can get. We can’t put limits on us. We need to keep

jumping.”

The only starter back is junior guard Chase Tapley, although

junior guard James Rahon had extensive playing time last year.

Sophomore guard Jamaal Franklin is on indefinite suspension

after being charged with a DUI.

Tapley and Rahon will lead a perimeter-oriented team that Fisher

thinks will be able to score in a number of ways.

The other probable starters are returning forward Tim Shelton

and transfers Xavier Thames and Garrett Green.

In late August, the 66-year-old Fisher received a four-year

contract extension that includes a clause that his longtime

assistant, Brian Dutcher, is the head coach-in-waiting.

Fisher said he’d have been happy with a handshake agreement, but

the long-term contract gives recruits and their parents some

assurances that the school wants Fisher to remain as coach.

Fans are wild about the Aztecs, too.

The Aztecs have sold a school-record 7,076 season tickets.

”The fact that we sold so many more season tickets is the

afterglow, the residual, from last year,” Fisher said. ”People

who saw a game or two, they said, `Hey, I like what I saw; I want

to be part of that.’ That not only helps this year but in years to

come.”

Fisher said the Aztecs feed off the fans as much as the fans

feed off the players.

”Our players have a great appreciation for our fans, and what

they’ve allowed us to do and become and are very proud of the fact

we tell people, there’s no better arena to come into, no harder

arena for an opponent to come into. We want to maintain that. We’re

also of the opinion that we’re going to continue to have a team

that’s good. That’s what’s called a program. That’s what we do have

now. We’ve won a lot of games over the past six or seven years, not

just last one.”