When the brackets were announced on March 13, University of Miami assistant coach Adam Fisher was out the door as soon as he saw the Hurricane’s first-round matchup vs. Buffalo.
When the brackets were announced on March 13, better known to a swath of the nation as Selection Sunday — the day when college basketball teams and their fans learn the fate of who and where they would be playing in this year’s NCAA tournament — University of Miami assistant coach Adam Fisher was out the door as soon as he saw the Hurricane’s first-round matchup vs. Buffalo. Not until some 24 hours later did the kid from Jamison, Pa., who played in the Maccabi Games as a teenager, realize the potential ramifications.
“I can honestly tell you as soon as their name came up I left to go start working on Buffalo,” said the 32-year-old Fisher, scouting coordinator for Jim Larrañaga’s 27-7 club, who also works with the ’Canes big men even though he’s only 5 feet-11 inches. “I didn’t look at a bracket until late Monday.”
That’s when he saw that should No. 3-seeded Miami make it to the Sweet Sixteen, they could face No. 2-seeded Villanova, the same school where Fisher spent two years as graduate manager under Wildcats coach Jay Wright. Indeed, the two teams will meet March 24 in Louisville, Ky., the winner a step away from the Final Four, where Fisher had a front row seat when Villanova advanced there in 2009.
According to Fisher, those seasons with Wright were invaluable. “Coach Wright” — yes, he still calls him that — “has done an incredible job,” Fisher told the Jewish Exponent, taking a break from watching game film. “He’s the reason I’m at Miami. I was able to learn so much from him in two years. I’m grateful for his mentorship and leadership.”
Fisher’s relationship with Wright, though, goes back long before those two seasons. Fisher’s coach at Central Bucks East High in Doylestown was Derek Wright, Jay’s brother. That was back in the late 1990s, when Wright was still the coach at Hofstra.
“We went to their team camp when he was at Hofstra,” recalled Fisher, who went to Penn State, where he served as a student manager. “Then, when I wanted to get into the coaching world, he treated me well. He’s such an incredible person.
“And I think Coach Wright has done an amazing job,” he continued. “He gets the best out of all those guys. I worked with him for two years. I’ve watched them during the season. Their first half against Iowa” — when ’Nova built a 54-29 lead, before cruising to an 87-68 victory — “was some of the best basketball I’ve seen. I expect them to be ready.”
Do two seasons alongside Wright, watching him tick and seeing the way he responds to situations, give Fisher any inside scoop he can pass on to Larrañaga? Not according to Fisher, whose entire family — mother Judi, dad Neil and brother Scott — all still live in this area.
“I think at this point of the year, everybody does a great job scouting,” said Fisher, who followed Wildcats assistant Pat Chambers first to Boston University for two years, then back to Penn State as director of player development, before joining Larrañaga’s staff in 2013. “They know what we’re going to run. We know what they’re going to run. Coach Wright just does a great job preparing his team mentally for every single game. We know they’ll come out right from the tip, just as they did against Iowa.”
All that admiration of Wright and the Villanova program aside, Fisher knows he’s working with a pretty good coach himself. The 66-year-old Larrañaga has racked up 560 wins, including a 2011 first-round tournament upset of Villanova when he was at George Mason University. “I knew about Coach L, and a friend let me know there was an opening,” said Fisher, who says he hasn’t gotten much sleep in recent weeks with all the film study and other aspects of the job. “I sent out my resume. I know he does a ton of research. I believe Coach L and Coach Wright spoke, but he talked to several people. I just know I’ve learned so much from two great coaches and great leaders.
“We have an amazing group of seniors. That helps in the NCAA Tournament.”
Especially when you’re in the process of blowing a 27-6 lead, which Miami did Saturday vs. Wichita State, before regrouping in the second half to pull out a 65-57 win.
So now it’s on to Louisville and Villanova, where Fisher knows most folks will be rooting against him. He doesn’t seem to mind. “It’s exciting,” said Fisher, who said he sees more basketball than most people, since his girlfriend works for the Miami Heat. “Being from Philadelphia and a team I grew up watching — Villanova was wonderful. I lived a mile from campus. But Boca’s a great place to live.”
Certainly it’s more Jewish, which makes Fisher feel right at home. “We went to Ohev Shalom,” said Adam, whose family owned the old Warrington Motor Lodge for more than 50 years. “I was Bar Mitzvahed and confirmed there by Rabbi Perlstein. I still celebrate the
holidays, but fasting’s difficult during work. It’s easier to find matzah here, though, than in State College.”
With a win Thursday, Miami would take on the winner between top-seeded Kansas and the No. 5-seeded Maryland for the South Region title and a trip to the Final Four April 2 to 4 in Houston. Having been there once before, Fisher knows the feeling.
“It was an incredible ride,” he said, simply — and one he’d like to try to attain with a team of his own. “Yeah, that’s the ultimate goal to be a head coach,” he admitted. “But right now, I’m going to continue to be a sponge and learn. I’ve learned from some great coaches, including Coach Shifty” — Brian Schiff — “my Maccabi coach, who cut me my first year. But I learned so much from him.”
Late Thursday night — when it’s all over — he’ll finally have a chance to renew acquaintances with Jay Wright and all those Villanova people he knows so well. Win or lose, those ties remain firm.
“I wish ’em all the best,” said Fisher. “It should be an exciting matchup.”
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