The Man and The Mentor: Webber Pays a Visit to SDSU

Aug 21, 2013


By Mick McGrane

Some of the photos are fading now, surrendering to the methodical march of time. The signature on an autographed basketball, though still legible, is fast fading, its author now 20 years older.

And while far from flirting with the maudlin that serves as a side dish to the proverbial mid-life crisis, turning 40 has made him take stock of his assets. It has prompted him to write a book that remains untitled and to pair it with a documentary that will tell his side of the story, a story that in the early 1990's rattled the rims and hijacked the high-tops of college basketball purists everywhere.

On this day, however, as Chris Webber stretches out his 6-foot-10 frame on a seat in the office of San Diego State basketball coach Steve Fisher, it's as much about The Mentor as it is Michigan's fabled Fab Five. Webber, who played two seasons under Fisher during the latter's eight-plus years as head coach of the Wolverines, has never visited San Diego State.

Inside Fisher's office, Webber is that kid in the candy store, an expression of delight crossing his face as his eyes skip from memento to memento. On a wall directly behind and slightly left of the coach's desk chair is Webber's framed Sacramento Kings jersey, flanked by the NBA jerseys of former Fab Five teammates Jalen Rose (Indiana Pacers) and Juwan Howard (Washington Wizards). On another wall hangs a photo of Webber, then at Michigan, delivering a two-handed reverse dunk. As he bends to admire a glass case housing myriad trophies, plaques and championship rings accrued by Fisher through the years, Webber seems temporarily transported to a time when the Fab Five's calling card of shaved heads, black socks and baggy shorts prompted both reverence and revulsion.

But that was two decades, five pro franchises and a million miles ago. He is no longer free of hair, nor responsibility. He has a wife, a family, a television career as an NBA analyst and a fervent desire to right any past wrongs. And should any arise, he is well aware of the potential consequences.

"Let me put it this way," said Webber, who spent a recent afternoon with his production company interviewing Fisher and his son, Aztecs assistant and Michigan graduate Mark, for his upcoming documentary. "I got in trouble (for a dorm prank) in college one time and all Coach Fisher said to me was, `Chris, you know the only thing I have to do is call your mom.' He knew what he was doing."

Still does. If others are dumbstruck by the wonders Fisher has worked on the Mesa, Webber is not. The No. 1-rated high school player in America coming out of Detroit Country Day School in 1991, Webber maintains that the keys to his former coach's success are simple: sincerity, honesty and a strict adherence to family values.

"He's a humble, wonderful man," Webber said. "And even though he's done so much for basketball (at SDSU), it's not just a matter of him wanting the men's basketball program to be great. He wants the women's basketball program to be great. He wants the women's volleyball program to be great. He knows the history of this place, from Tony Gwynn to Marshall Faulk and all the other great athletes who have come through here.

"As a coach, he was always so steady. He's the same way today as he was when he was recruiting me as a 16-year-old kid. He's a guy that you never see out of character. But the biggest thing with Coach is that he's always been about promoting family; it's never been about himself. He's a great man and a great person, and that's not easy to do at the same time. He has a sincerity that is so authentic it's just something you rarely see these days."

Unless you see it reflected in his players. Exhibit A: Former Aztec Kawhi Leonard, a first-round draft pick of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs and humility personified.

"Kawhi Leonard is the greatest ambassador San Diego State basketball has had since Coach Fisher got here," Webber said. "Coach went out and recruited Kawhi early before he was ever (California's) Mr. Basketball. You had all of these other schools that passed on him, but Coach knows talent. And if you talk to Kawhi about him, Kawhi has the same stories we all do.

"Coach has always preached that if you're passionate and you work hard that you deserve to have high expectations. But you have to do all of the other things to earn that right. As (the Fab Five), we thought we deserved that right. We thought we worked hard enough and we thought when we played that we were doing all of the things that he expected us to.

"He puts such a great reward system in place. It's a system where having small victories sets you up for the big victory."

A system applicable not only to basketball, but to life.

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