How Steve Fisher got back on top

The Fab Five coach helms an elite program again, and here's the blueprint

Originally Published: January 26, 2011
By Doug Gottlieb | ESPN.Com

For some, the emergence of the San Diego State Aztecs this season could be seen as a shock. It wasn't long ago that the Aztecs didn't register at all on the college hoops radar. Now here they stand No. 4 in both polls and -- per Joe Lunardi -- could end up as a No. 1 seed in the Dance. SDSU has virtually no basketball history to speak of before the 12-year run of Steve Fisher & Co., so how did this once-unnoticed program reach the upper echelon of college hoops?

If you take a look at San Diego State's 2010-11 roster and how the Aztecs landed their players, you can start to see how SDSU has been built into a power in Southern California.

Kawhi Leonard: California Player of the Year -- but lightly regarded as a PF option, so no Pac-10 schools offered him a scholarship. Leonard might have the biggest hands of any player his size in college hoops and is a great rebounder, but several Pac-10 coaches were not convinced his game would translate to their level. They were wrong.

Malcolm Thomas: San Diego High School product who was part of a package deal to go to Pepperdine and play for Vance Walberg. When Walberg resigned, the high-scoring frosh landed at San Diego City College, then stayed home at SDSU.

Billy White: A fairly well recruited player who is a bit of a tweener out of Las Vegas; a good veteran scorer who has gotten better every season.

D.J. Gay: A lightly recruited scoring lead guard from L.A.'s Sun Valley, an outstanding student who is allowed to play his game and score more than facilitate. He's also a very confidence-inspiring player.

Tim Shelton: From Bakersfield, Shelton came over with assistant Justin Hutson. He's been a good solid interior rebounder who can score.

Chase Tapley: A solid scoring guard from Sacramento, Tapley is another good find in an under-recruited area of California.

Brian Carlwell: A transfer from Illinois, Carlwell is a big body who gives the Aztecs a legit low-post defender and big body against the few opponents they have faced with size.

Starting to detect a trend? Finding overlooked and cast-off players was only part of the formula -- and the program has been burned by some of those players in the past. But you don't build a program of San Diego State's caliber by simply relying on player talent. With that in mind, here are 10 more keys to the Aztecs' winning equation.