It’s a select circle that Adam Fisher has joined. And he’s honored to be a part of it.
The guy from Jamison, who’s spent the past 17 years working alongside — and learning from — some of college basketball’s greats, is about to take the reins of his own program at Temple. And come Nov. 6, when the University of Maryland Eastern Shore comes to town to face his Owls, Fisher will become only the 28th Jewish coach in NCAA history.
Among that group, 12 are active today, including Auburn University’s Bruce Pearl and Jon Scheyer at Duke University. Their predecessors include Hall of Famers Larry Brown and Nat Holman, along with Roy Rubin, who was at Long Island University before going a horrific 4-47 in half a season of coaching a Sixers team that wound up an unfathomable 9-73 in 1972-‘73.
Oh, there’s one other guy Fisher and many around these parts know about all too well: That’s Harry Litwack, who went 373-193 at Temple, getting to two Final Fours and winning the 1969 N.I.T.
“The previous Jewish head coach here was an amazing coach,” said Fisher, who took over from Aaron McKie in March. “It is a tough act to follow.
“Somebody tweeted out how many Jewish head coaches there are, and it’s an honor to be part of that. Judaism is a big part of me and the way I was raised, my wife (Rebecca) was raised and how we’re raising our daughter (2½-year-old Alivia, who they call Livi).
“When we were at Penn State, we invited some of our student-athletes over for Chanukah and taught them to spin the dreidel and eat latkes.”
Now, though, after spending all those years traipsing the college hoops frontier at Villanova University (two years), Boston University (2), the University of Miami (8) and his alma mater Penn State (5), he’s finally back home to celebrate all the holidays.
And he’s home to coach a storied program that has struggled in recent years to the point where the cupboard was left almost bare due to the NCAA’s transfer portal that allows players to transfer to another school without having to sit out a year as before. Then there’s something known as NILs (name, image and likeness) where, for the first time, players can be compensated by outside entities.
“The landscape in college basketball has drastically changed,” conceded Fisher, who played at Central Bucks East under Derek Wright, younger brother to ‘Nova’s storied coach Jay Wright. “We just have to adapt to it. We have a lot of new guys because we only had five guys left when I got here.
“We re-recruited one, quickly met with one of our incoming freshmen … to keep his commitment, then added five players from the portal. So, we attacked the transfer portal. And with NILs, we’ve got to attack it and deal with it.”
Those hassles aside, Fisher is thrilled with the job.
“We all strive in this business to run our own program at some point,” said Fisher, who recently moved to Wayne, a much shorter drive to work than the commute he made from his in-laws’ house in Ivyland. “I never really pursued things, and this is the first coaching opportunity I had.
“Working for Coach (Jim) Larranaga, Coach (Micah) Shrewsberry and Coach Wright prepares you. Each was a little bit different.
“With Coach Wright, I was a sponge. Every word he said, I wrote down as if was gold. What Coach Shrewsberry taught me was attention to detail. He had a clear vision of what he wanted to do at Penn State and stuck to it. Coach L. (Larranaga) was just a hall of fame person, a great teacher and unbelievable mentor. He prepared everyone in the program for what their next step would be.”
With practice starting soon for the Owls, that next step for Fisher is six weeks away. When it finally arrives, he knows he’ll go through a range of emotions.
“I probably won’t sleep much the night before,” said Fisher, who’ll participate in a panel discussion about race, religion and sports on Nov. 19 at Gratz College. “There’ll be excitement and nerves, but I’m looking forward to it. You wait your whole career for something, but once we tip, then it’s going to be great.”
As for what to expect once his team steps on the court: “I believe in getting the best shot you can, whether with 20 seconds on the shot clock or two,” said the 40-year-old Fisher, who helped the Philadelphia team take a silver medal at the 2000 Maccabiah Games. “I’d like to shoot a lot of 3s if we can, but if we can’t be based on our personnel, we’ll go downhill and attack. I want to be aggressive on defense. I like man-to-man defense with very active hands and good communication.”
Once the buzzer sounds, it’s time to head to his new home where he and his wife — both former longtime members at Temple Ohev Shalom in Richboro, where they were married and had Livi’s naming — are searching for a new synagogue.
While observant, Fisher said people may draw the wrong impression from listening to Livi.
“She tells people, ‘My Daddy goes to Temple every day,’’ he laughed.
Jon Marks is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer.