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Cager Follows Coach and Sun, Discovers Success at Cal Poly

January 09, 1986|MITCH POLIN | Times Staff Writer

Shortly after the 1983-84 basketball season--one of the best years ever (25-5) at the University of Minnesota-Duluth--George Fisher told his players he was leaving to become coach of Cal Poly Pomona.

Most were visibly shaken, a few more than others.

Little did Fisher suspect that one would follow him to Southern California.

"When I made the announcement, a couple of the kids asked me what was the chance of transferring (to Pomona)," Fisher recalled. "I was kind of hesitant about that at first and I tried to talk them out of it because I just didn't think it was fair to the program (at Minnesota-Duluth)."

But freshman guard Darron Suttle refused the advice.

Cold Weather, Bleak Future

Suttle, yearning to escape the bitter cold of the Midwest, said his decision to transfer was difficult, but one he had to make.

Besides the prospect of sunshine and blue skies, Suttle was expecting more playing time.

At Minnesota, the 5-10 Suttle could only look forward to sitting on the bench behind the team's outstanding sophomore guard for two years.

Suttle believes he made a wise decision. Fisher will not disagree.

After redshirting last year, Suttle has not taken long to make up for lost time this season.

The 19-year-old sophomore point guard is leading the Broncos in scoring with a 15.5 average and in assists with 4.8 a game. Suttle also is one of the team's top field-goal shooters at 55.6% and free-throw shooters at 75%.

Friendly Face Welcomed

"Believe me, it's one of the big reasons why we're off to our best start (9-4) since 1967," Fisher said. "We have nine new players and it sure helps to have a guy around who knows you as a coach."

Fisher warned his would-be transfer that it would not be an easy adjustment in California.

Suttle, an all-state player as a senior at Dominican High in Whitefish Bay, Wis. (near Milwaukee), admitted it was a difficult move, especially for his mother.

"My mom was pretty shocked with the decision," Suttle remembers. "She was a little worried about my being 2,000 miles from home. I was only seven hours away (by car) in Duluth."

Not that Suttle minds living away from home. "I'm kind of a loner. I don't mind doing things by myself. But I do miss my family at times."

Assurance for Mother

Fisher assured Suttle's mother that her son would be all right in California.

"I know his mother well, and one thing I promised her was that if he had any problems I would be there and so would our coaching staff," Fisher said. "I think she had that trust that we would do the right thing with him."

Suttle admits he may have had doubts about the wisdom of his move in his redshirt season when he sat on the sidelines and watched the Broncos struggle to a 7-22 record.

"For a while, I did have second thoughts. But I practiced with the team every day and got good feedback from the players. They told me if I were playing it would be different."

They were right. With Suttle in the lineup, the fortunes of the Broncos have changed considerably for the better.

The sudden turnabout has been a pleasant surprise for Suttle.

'A Lot of Heart'

"It's kind of a surprise, but we're a really competitive team," Suttle said. "We're very young but we're very enthusiastic. I think we have a lot of heart."

Suttle said the team's attitude and style of play are strikingly similar to what he experienced as a freshman at Minnesota-Duluth, when he averaged 5 points and 2 assists a game in sparse playing time.

About the only difference now is that he is playing a much bigger role in his team's success.

"It seems like the same type of players we had in Duluth," Suttle said. "They play the same style and they're very competitive. They just fit into (Fisher's) system very well."

Not only has Suttle been the playmaker, but he has also assumed more of a scoring role than at Duluth.

That has not surprised Fisher, who remembers how Suttle played as a senior in high school.

36 Points in Tournament

"He was a good scorer," Fisher said. "He scored 36 points in the semifinals of the state tournament and had to make an adjustment when he came to Duluth. So I knew he could handle being a scorer and a playmaker here."

Fisher said that Suttle's ability as a playmaker is particularly noticeable when the Broncos run the fast break.

"The team has a lot of confidence in his ability to be creative in a transition," Fisher said. "They know he can score and they know he can dish it off. I think another thing that sets him apart is his ability to pull up and hit the 20-footer. Not everybody can do that."

More important is that Suttle is the only Bronco who can say he has firsthand knowledge of the coaching philosophy of Fisher, whose teams at Duluth earned four straight postseason tournament berths.

"I think he really understands what I'm trying to accomplish here," Fisher said.

Fisher said that hard work is a key to Suttle's success.

He's a 'Gym Rat'

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