Fieler’s fierce dunks belie calm nature
It's remarkable that in the midst of the inevitable madness that comes with the NCAA tournament, the calmest group of kids seems to be the one causing the most chaos.
This March, that group is Florida Gulf Coast, the No. 15 seed out of the South region that has captured the country by storm, knocking out No. 2 seed Georgetown on Friday and then dispatching of No. 7-seed San Diego State on Sunday, becoming the lowest-seeded team ever to reach the Sweet 16.
In perhaps the defining moment of this year's tournament so far, FGCU point guard Brett Comer threw a seemingly blind alley-oop pass over his head that landed in the tomahawking hand of Parkersburg South's own Chase Fieler in the waning moments of the Georgetown game.
Fieler threw it down and brought down the house in Philadelphia, wrecking the rim at the Wells Fargo Center, the Hoyas' season, and the brackets of millions of Americans all the way from the Gulf Coast to the Pacific Coast.
Aside from his aerobatic exploits, Fieler's calm nature may be a driving force for his team, which is in just its second year of NCAA tournament eligibility.
And as shocking as the Eagles' run into the college basketball record books has been, Fieler's high school coach, Roy Edman, is not surprised to see his former pupil succeeding on the biggest of stages.
"It's awfully exciting to see one of your former players doing so well," said Edman, no longer the Patriots' coach. "He was an outstanding player at South. It's great to look on TV and see that big smile - he always had that here. He played and really had a lot of fun. He has always been really upbeat and that's carried over to the whole team now with the way they play."
Those sentiments were reiterated by one of Fieler's former opponents, George Washington coach Rick Greene. The two shared a playful, competitive banter when the two groups of Patriots met, and it culminated with Fieler's senior night in Parkersburg.
"They always threw little blue basketballs out [on senior night]," Greene said with a laugh. "So then I notice he doesn't throw one out. He starts running over toward me and flips me the ball and he had signed it. That's the way we were. It was banter, but it was good-natured and with a lot of mutual respect.
"It's good to see a kid that's such a gentleman and such a good kid from West Virginia get some good publicity. It couldn't happen to a nicer kid."
That nice kid averaged 25.3 points and 12.7 rebounds per game in his senior season at Parkersburg South, earning him first-team all-state honors but not much attention in terms of college recruitment.
Edman listed Eastern Kentucky, James Madison, Glenville State, and West Liberty as those being interested, but said there was virtually no interest from either of the state's two Division I programs.
All this despite Fieler's solid ball handling, 3-point range, post and rebounding presence, and of course the penchant for show-shopping dunks. Those earned him a title in the dunk contest at the 2010 North-South game.
His ball handling and crisp passing stems from his days playing point guard before a 6-inch growth spurt in a year resulted in his 6-foot-8 frame and made playing the point unfeasible.
Fortunately for him, former South players Bryan Crislip and Ryan Hopkins had blazed a trail down to the infant program at Florida Gulf Coast, and shortly after Edman put in a phone call and sent a tape to the school.
It wasn't long before then-FGCU coach Dave Balza was sitting in George Washington's gym to scout Fieler at the end of his senior season.
What Balza saw was 27 points, 14 rebounds, seven blocks, and six assists as Fieler led South to an 85-76 upset win over then-No. 1 GW. Needless to say, it was enough to impress Balza to make an offer.
Fieler probably needed to research as long as it took to discover the words "beachfront dorm rooms" to give his quick verbal commitment.
"It's beautiful, absolutely fantastic," Edman said of the school. "I told him, they're down there running around in bikinis and we're up here running around in fur."
He made an immediate impact in Fort Myers as a freshman, starting half of the team's 30 games while hitting double-figure scoring six times and leading the team twice.
Fieler's averages were up to 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season in his sophomore year, before rising to 12.1 and 5.4 this season.
But all those years at South and FGCU seemingly culminated in one monster jam that KO'd the heavily favored Hoyas and stamped the school's name onto America's vernacular.
"He had some big ones at South too," Edman said. "His elbow was above the rim - it was fun to watch. My son [former assistant, Josh] was there and he texted me during the game and when they got the big lead he said everybody in that place quit worrying about their team or who was playing next and just started cheering for Gulf Coast. He said it was an unbelievable atmosphere and the team fed off it."
Now it becomes a question of how far the Eagles and Fieler can go. Next is the task of playing the No. 3-seed Florida Gators on Friday at 10:07 p.m. at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas with a bid into the Elite Eight on the line.
But as high as the stakes have become, there is no indication that FGCU is going to fall victim to nerves now.
"I would tell them, 'Hey guys, we're not favored to do anything,'" Edman said. "They've got to be the loosest team in the tournament, I would think. They don't seem tight and I see a lot of smiles on their faces."
And thus has always been the case with Fieler, who left the state like a lamb but is now roaring with the rest of the Eagles on a national stage.
"He's an awfully special person," Edman said. "He was one of those kids where if we ended practice at 10, he'd still be shooting at 11:30. He's the kind of kid that put the work in. He always had the body, it just took a little bit of time."
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.