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.''