There aren’t many blank spots on longtime NBA player Derek Fisher’s resume: five world titles, an AAU National Championship, a high school state championship, six years as National Basketball Players Association President. On every big stage the Little Rock native has played, he has left his mark.
Yet there’s the stage he never played on.
It doesn’t matter how many big-time events Fisher has been a part of in his 16-year pro career. Nothing will erase the memory of how close he got as a college senior to making his sport’s most dramatic competition: the NCAA Tournament. His University of Arkansas at Little Rock Trojans were up 56-55 in the 1996 Sun Belt Conference Championship game with four seconds left.
The University of New Orleans had the ball. Fisher closed out quickly on the opposing guard with the ball, but he spun past Fisher’s outstretched arms and drove to the basket, lofting a teardrop shot that resulted in an upset win.
Despite a 23-6 record, UALR would be left out on the doorstep on Selection Sunday. Fisher’s final shot at the Big Dance was gone.
It could have been much, much different.
What if instead of leading UALR, Fish had helped steer the Razorbacks? “I think he could have played at Arkansas, but coming out of high school, he just wasn’t ready,” said Razorback All-American Corliss Williamson, also one of Fisher’s best friends. There’s a strong chance Fisher was ready for Arkansas halfway through his college career, though, and he was closer to making that jump than many people realize.
In a perfect world, UALR’s leading returning scorer from last season would near home right now, representing his native Great Britain.
Instead, he’s in his second home – Little Rock – trying to finish off the last few weeks of rehab from an April surgery to repair a a torn labrum in his left shoulder and a torn left bicep. Neighbour suffered the injury on December 31, but still produced an All-Sun Belt second-team season, averaging 10.5 points per game on 41.3% three-point shooting.
For the last few years, his goal had been to show off that perimeter stroke in front of family and friends in this summer’s London Olympics. Priority shifted in the spring, though, when he weighed the risks and rewards of trying out for the British national team (thus postponing his surgery) and getting surgery out of the way to come back strong for the start of the 2012-13 season.
He chose the latter, and doesn’t seem to regret the decision much. The rehab “is coming along real well,” he told me on Tuesday during an interview for an upcoming SYNC and KUAR FM 89.1 story.
Here’s more on his progress:
I’m working out with the team, but I can’t do any of the contact stuff. I can do the shooting drills, dribbling drills and I’m working out every day with my two trainers – coach [John] Barron, a fantastic weight coach and Michael Switlik. He’s doing amazing too. We’re doing rehab everyday and just trying to get full range of motion back and just get my shoulder strong and ready for the season.”
The trainers estimate he won’t be ready for contact drills and scrimmaging for another two months, he added.