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S.J. boys' basketball preview: Fisher back at Pennsauken

Five of his players run a circle around Al Fisher as the new Pennsauken High School boys' basketball coach shoots a free throw.

Five of his players run a circle around Al Fisher as the new Pennsauken High School boys' basketball coach shoots a free throw.

The idea is for one of the players to grab the rebound and start a fastbreak.

But there are no rebounds.




"Part of me still wants to go to the scorer's table and check in," Fisher said. "I still want to play."

Fisher, who finished his sensational career at Pennsauken in 2004, looks as if he could pass as an Indians senior.

But the 30-year-old coach's youthful appearance is no mask for his all-business approach: The Indians spent most of a recent practice running sprints and doing other conditioning work.

"That's all he does is make us run," Pennsauken senior forward Quincy Wright said. "He said we're going to be in the best shape of our lives."

Fisher's return to his alma mater, where he scored 1,608 career points and led Pennsauken to a sectional championship, is one of the most compelling early story lines of the South Jersey boys' basketball season.

Fisher takes over a deep, talented, senior-laden squad that checks in as the No. 9 team in the Inquirer preseason Top 25 and looms as a legitimate contender for the Central Jersey Group 3 title.

Pennsauken features seasoned seniors such as Wright, Zaire Davis, Jaylen Robinson, Josh Oxendine, and Jalen Hayes, among others.

Part of the "buzz" that Pennsauken athletic director Eric Mossop detects around the school's basketball team is related to the Indians' strong finish in 2015 and the return of every player who scored a point in a 49-47 loss to eventual Central Jersey Group 3 champion Pemberton in the sectional quarterfinals on March 1.

But the Indians also got a serious jolt with the return of Fisher, a Pennsauken guy through and through and one of the top players in the history of the program.

"This is coming home for me," Fisher said. "This is where I played, this is the gym I remember. This is special for me."

Tim Dunne, who was Pennsauken's head coach when Fisher was a senior, believes his former star guard will make an immediate impact on the Indians.

"Al always was a guy who put the time in," Dunne said. "If the gym was open, he was going to be there. And he really understands the player development side of it.

"He's still going to be the best player on the court every time he steps out there, so those players are going to listen to what he has to say."

As a senior at Pennsauken, Fisher averaged 22 points and led the Indians to a 23-5 record and the Central Jersey Group 4 title.

Fisher played college ball at Siena, Redlands Community (Okla.), and Kent State.

At Kent State, Fisher was a two-time, first-team all-Mid-American Conference selection and was named the conference's player of the year in 2008 after leading the Flashes to the NCAA tournament.

After college, Fisher spent five years playing overseas. He played in Israel for three years and spent a year each in Turkey and Lebanon.

"Great experience," Fisher said. "I would still be playing, but I got a little banged up and I wanted to come home."

Fisher said that during his playing career he often imagined himself becoming a coach. He has directed a couple of teams for the South Jersey Rising Stars AAU program in the spring and summer in recent years, but this is his first time in charge of a program, and his first experience at the high school level.

Fisher runs his own basketball training business. He also serves as a substitute teacher at Pennsauken.

"He's from here and he's won here," said Davis, an athletic senior guard. "He's going to help us out a lot."

Fisher said he hopes to develop a team that plays an up-tempo style with full-court pressure defense. Based on a recent practice, the Indians should be prepared to go end-line-to-end-line for 32 minutes, plus overtime if necessary.

"Ninety-four feet, pressure the ball," Fisher said. "That's how I want us to play, but we need to be smart, too, be disciplined."

Fisher said he hopes to make the Indians' unique upstairs gymnasium one of the toughest home courts in South Jersey.

"The main thing is trying to change the mind-set, trying to change the culture here in this gym," Fisher said. "I played in this gym. I remember when we played Roman Catholic, you couldn't get a seat. It was packed.

"That's what we want to get back to, having these guys know what it's like to play big games in this gym."

Dunne said Fisher's connection to his hometown will drive him as a coach.

"He's a Pennsauken guy, he has that Pennsauken pride," Dunne said. "He remembers what it was like when we had those teams, when the town was excited by the basketball team. He wants to bring that back."

In Fisher's senior year, Pennsauken lost in the state semifinals at Atlantic City to an undefeated Lenape team that featured future NBA player Jason Thompson as well as standout swingman Matt Betley.

That was Fisher's last high school game. He said he was away from Pennsauken for much of the last 12 years but is determined to help his old team recapture some of the magic that was in the air during his playing days.

"I was born and raised here," Fisher said. "All my family and friends are here. Just being back home, back in Pennsauken, it means a lot to me.

"I still get flashbacks, thinking about old games, all the excitement. I'm trying to get these guys to experience that."