Aztecs' program has become a national powerhouse under Steve Fisher

By Bernie Wilson

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Feb. 17 2011 11:00 p.m. MST

Fisher has built a team with a decidedly California feel. His starting five has one San Diegan, senior forward Malcolm Thomas, who's in his second season at SDSU after transferring from Pepperdine. Gay is from the Los Angeles suburb of Sun Valley and Leonard is from Riverside. Sophomore guard Chase Tapley is from Sacramento, leaving senior forward Billy White of Las Vegas as the only out-of-stater among the five.

Another San Diegan, backup guard James Rahon, transferred from Santa Clara.

"It was not exclusively by design and yet, I think no matter where you are, you're better served recruiting a smaller circle and kind of keep it going," Fisher said. "So, if there were enough people right here in San Diego that we felt could help us win, we would go no further, because those are the ones that you have the best shots at. The closer you are, all things close to equal, the better served you are. That was kind of our theme — stay in California, stay in the West, selectively recruit nationally."

Fisher often has said that while Gay might not be the team's best player, he's certainly its most important player. Two weeks ago at Colorado State, the Rams tied the game with 10 seconds left. Fisher decided not to call a timeout and left it up to Gay to make a play. He dribbled down the court and hit an 18-foot fadeaway jumper with 1.8 seconds left for a 56-54 win.

SDSU's best player is Leonard, whose huge hands gather in seemingly every rebound in sight. Leonard has 18 double-doubles this season.

"We recruited him harder and better than anybody," Fisher said. "I know that's bragging, but we did. We watched him practice, we saw more games than anybody."

Gay hopes Fisher gets as much credit for his work at SDSU as he did with Michigan. "He's done a great job here in building this program," Gay said. "This city has become a circus now with all the success we're having this season. He's probably the most popular guy in San Diego."

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