Road leads back home

Basketball: Marcus Fizer, who has painful memories of growing up on the streets of Detroit, will lead Iowa State against UCLA tomorrow in a Sweet 16 game in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Ncaa Tournament

March 22, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Marcus Fizer brings college basketball's most-coveted all-around game to Detroit tomorrow, as well as some unwanted memories.

The nation's top player may list his hometown as Arcadia, La., but the Iowa State superstar grew up on the tough streets of the Motor City. He saw violence, crime and a way out.

Fizer chose to attend high school in Louisiana at 14 and live with his mother's first cousin, despite realizing his single mother would not follow. He still went on his own path, his own life.

The 6-foot-8 center returns with the second-seeded Cyclones (31-4) as the headliner of this year's NCAA tournament while many of his friends from Detroit have been killed or ended up in jail.

"I decided to move," said Fizer, a junior who has only visited once since. "It's by the grace of God that I did."

Few would recognize Fizer now. Few would recognize Fizer from last year.

He pumped up his body and his explosiveness, transforming from a scorer to a dominant player.

Why the change? His incentive became rejection.

Last summer, Fizer was passed over for the U.S. World University Games team.

"That was a turning point in his career," coach Larry Eustachy said. "When I first got in, I expected this phenomenal McDonald's All-American. I really was disappointed. He didn't have a lot of pop in his game. He was overweight, and he didn't have any impact to winning.

"He's a thousand times better than he was last year. He's a man. He dictates the game, as opposed to the way the game dictated him last year."

His weight went from a flabby 248 to a sleek 265. His body fat went from 16 percent to 9 percent. His bench press went from 300 to 370 pounds.

Fizer now can bust through a crowd of defenders and has enough strength to dunk over them.

He's always had a soft touch on the baseline, but he never strayed too far from the paint. His comfort level, however, has climbed so high that he will step out to the arc, where he will shoot the three or dribble and penetrate.

"Coach Eustachy told me before last season that he wanted me to impact winning, and I said, `OK,' " Fizer said. "But really, I didn't have a clue what he was talking about."

So, Fizer faked his way through it. He only became the second Iowa State player to be named first-team All-America by the Associated Press and the first since Gary Thompson in 1957.

His scoring increased five points to 23.2 a game. He has made 59 percent of his shots, bettering last season's 45 percent. He is the only player in the top 10 in scoring and field-goal percentage.

When the Cyclones, who face UCLA tomorrow, captured their second league championship, Fizer averaged 32.6 points and hit 61 of 106 shots (58 percent).

"You just have to look at the guy's numbers and what he's done," said Thompson, who still follows the Ames, Iowa, school avidly. "He carried the team on his back this year."

Maybe it's because Fizer has had to carry so much, so early in his personal life.

He doesn't ever remember meeting his father. He became engaged to Anysha Ticer seven months ago. He has two children, a 3-year-old and a 2-year-old, neither with Ticer. They have different mothers, with one living with Fizer's guardian in Louisiana and the other staying with the child's mother in Washington, D.C.

"They make me smile," said Fizer, who will decide whether to stay or leave early for the NBA after the season. "I love my children, I love Anysha, and I love my family. But when I step on the court, there's nothing on my mind but basketball."

But he's never had to step onto a college court in Auburn Hills, Mich., which is about a 40-minute drive north of Detroit. He traveled back there for the first time since leaving only last May to visit his mother and Alondre, a friend from his old playground basketball days.

On the night he was supposed to get together with Alondre, Fizer's mother told him, "I have something bad to tell you. Alondre was shot and killed last night on the street corner."

Once again, Fizer knew he could escape the city, but not the memories.

"The night before I was driving around with Anysha and she was taking pictures. She took a picture at that street corner where Alondre was shot, and the police lines were still up," Fizer said. "You can see them in the background of the picture. We didn't see it until later. That shook me up so bad."

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