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Thursday, February 28, 2008
Fisher has slowly matured to be the nation's top scorer

By Kyle Whelliston
Special to ESPN.com

BOONE, N.C. -- His giant shoulders and arms look out of place on his 6-foot-4 frame, as if they were switched out from a pro-wrestling action figure. As the ball deflects off the rim, he muscles for position in amongst players many inches taller and leaps high in the air, opening his wingspan wide to cradle the carom.

Charron Fisher doesn't grab rebounds as much as he embraces them.

"I have a knack for the ball, I know where it's going to come down," Fisher said. "I can bully my way around taller guys most of the time, and I have a pretty quick jump."

Charron Fisher
Who is this guy? He's just the nation's leading scorer.

The star senior and his team, the Niagara Purple Eagles, play in the shadows of the shadows, in NCAA play-in games and non-televised BracketBusters contests. So you may have overlooked or simply missed the 9.1 rebounds per contest those long arms have pulled down.

But it's been the array of driving layups, swooping hooks and finger-rolls from those elastic arms that have placed Fisher atop the national scoring chart with a whopping 27.6 points per game. (He's currently tied with VMI's Reggie Williams for the nation's scoring average lead.)

Fisher, a Pennsauken, N.J., native, netted 45 points in a road win at Loyola on Feb. 10 -- the highest individual total this season until Rob McKiver's 52 points for Houston on Wednesday. Those are numbers big enough and impressive enough to make any college basketball fan ask, "Who is this guy?"

"When we need a basket, we go to him. He's a great, great scorer," replied Niagara coach Joe Mihalich. "But what he's done off the floor has been ultimately important to this team. People won't see it, but when we're in the video room he'll rewind it and say, 'What about this?' When we're reading through a scouting report, he'll finish the sentence for us. He's so locked in. He's always acting the right way, doing all the right things."

But it was an ill-advised night out before his junior season, a very wrong thing, that threatened to define his playing career.

On Aug. 14, 2006, six members of the Purple Eagles basketball team were arrested after a melee outside a local bar. Police charged Fisher and teammate Stanley Hodge with misdemeanor assault after they were accused of pulling a Niagara baseball player from his car and beating him badly, in what school administrators later described as a fight over a girl.

Fisher's assault charges were dropped when he agreed to community service and anger counseling, but the school made sure he still served time for his actions. Fisher drew an eight-game suspension to start the 2006-07 season.

Top Scorers

Player PPG
Charron Fisher, Sr., Niagara 27.6
Reggie Williams, Sr., VMI 27.6
Michael Beasley, Fr., K-State 26.2
Lester Hudson, Jr., UT-Martin 25.7
Stephen Curry, So., Davidson 25.0

"It was a humbling experience for me," Fisher said of the incident's fallout. "It helped me mature a lot. I know now that I can't be immature off the court because there are always going to be people watching me. I had to grow up, and I think I've done a great job of doing that since then. I've stayed out of trouble."

"It made him a man," Mihalich agreed. "And it makes me so proud to say that I work at Niagara University, and we do the right thing. There are a lot of places that would have swept it under the rug, the obligatory one-game suspension. But we didn't do that -- that's not what Niagara University stands for."

Without Fisher, Niagara slumped to a 2-6 start. With their "man-child" -- Mihalich's words -- back in the lineup after the suspension, the Purple Eagles rallied to win eight straight to close the regular season, claiming the school's second Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's automatic bid in three years with an 83-78 title-game win over Siena. After defeating Florida A&M in the NCAA opening-round game, Fisher's team-leading 17 points weren't nearly enough in a 40-point loss to Kansas in the first round.

But in 2007-08, with Niagara in the midst of another tight battle for the MAAC championship, the mature Fisher has assumed a full leadership position in the locker room. In January, when the team absorbed three losses over a 10-day stretch, the lead Eagle addressed the squad.

"I told the guys that this is a five-loss league," recalled Fisher. "We lost five games in the league two of the three years I've been here, and we won the league both times. I told them that we just had to worry about what we had to do, and keep our focus."

Fisher's calming words were both inspirational and prophetic -- the Purple Eagles have gone 7-2 since his speech. With two games to go in the regular season, Niagara is 11-5 in MAAC play and in a four-way tie for first place with Siena, Loyola and Rider.

But that wasn't enough to earn a spot as one of the 28 schools participating in the televised portion of BracketBusters. When the nation's leading scorer and his purple-clad teammates took a break from the tight MAAC race on Saturday, their game at Appalachian State was radio-only.

Charron Fisher
Charron Fisher's lowest point total of the season was a whopping 17-point effort against Marist.

Unlike the games on TV, there was little to remind the fans at the Holmes Center that the game was part of the BracketBusters series. No floor decals, no ESPN banners, just a canvas sign in a far corner with the sponsor's logo. And a lot of thin air, a full 3,333 feet above sea level.

The high altitude had little effect on Fisher. He powered his way to the basket for 15 first-half points. Fisher finished with 21, including a key layup with 42 seconds left that gave the Purple Eagles a late lead and helped set up a buzzer-beating 3 from teammate Hodge. He also snagged 11 rebounds to notch his eighth double-double of the season in the 76-75 win.

The high-altitude experience might eventually end up in Fisher's blog, a project that he began with the Niagara Gazette newspaper at the start of the season. So far, he's detailed long bus trips and waiting in airports, his PlayStation 3 superstitions, and the unbearable lightness of being the nation's leading scorer.

"I thought it was a real good idea when they approached me," he said of his season-long journal. "It's fun, and I get a lot of good feedback from it. A lot of the fans tell me how much they enjoy it, how they like reading about us. A lot of people see what's going on on the court, so this is more of an off-the-court type of thing. It lets people in on the life of a basketball team."

But Fisher is careful not to dish too many secrets about the other Purple Eagles, the teammates who feed him the ball.

"Nah, I don't know if my teammates even read it," Fisher said, smiling. "I don't give out too much information. I try to stick to my own personal stuff in there and don't get into anyone else's business."

If a writing career doesn't work out, there's always hoops. Once Niagara's season ends in March, so does Fisher's college playing career. But some, including his coach, believe that he has the talent necessary to earn money for his craft.

"He's just so hard to guard," Mihalich said. "He's too strong for guys his size, he's too crafty and too quick for guys bigger than him. Just fearless. This is my 30th year of coaching, and he's the most competitive guy I've ever been around. And he's got skills; he can put the ball in the basket."

Fisher, however, often his own worst critic, believes that he still has work to do before he can move on to the professional ranks.

"I feel like I can score with my back to the basket pretty much any time I want," said Fisher. "But I want to work on putting the ball on the floor, getting past people and getting to the basket. I need to get ready for a bigger guy at the next level that I can't just back down."

With arms like his, he might just be able to reach around the guy.

Kyle Whelliston is the national mid-major reporter for Basketball Times and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.