Fitzpatrick to leave behind legacy
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 00:03
USF will enter its final home game of the season against Connecticut (9-7, 19-9) at 9 p.m. and as the Bulls exit the arena tomorrow after the game, win or lose, it will mark the end of an era at the Sun Dome — the era of USF’s senior forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick.
“He’s leaving here with a strong legacy, not just stats, not just on the court, (but) he’s been a representative for our program and he’s loved Tampa and USF to his heart,” coach Stan Heath said. “I think he’s going to have a heck of a career playing at the next level in professional basketball.”
A Tampa native, Fitzpatrick originally signed with Georgia Southern, but after the coach there resigned, Fitzpatrick chose to attend USF, picking the Bulls over Miami, Alabama, Florida State, Ole Miss, Tulane and Auburn.
“When we first took him a lot of people raised their eyebrows, and watching him in high school I wasn’t sure,” Heath said. “But he’s had an awesome career. I can think of so many games that he’s been a part of where he’s helped us win.”
It was clear after his first season as a Bull, in which he saw action in all games, that Fitzpatrick would have a lasting impact, but few anticipated the success that was to come.
With two games left for the Bulls (2-14, 11-17) in the regular season, and two games left in his collegiate career, Fitzpatrick is currently in the Top 10 or close to it in a combination of records in school history that fans don’t see very often.
Fitzpatrick ranks No. 7 all-time in career blocks with 109 and became No. 10 all-time in 3-pointers with 108 after draining five in USF’s previous game against DePaul. He is also nine rebounds away from another No. 10 all-time record.
If Fitzpatrick manages to snag those nine rebounds over the course of the next two games he will become the first USF player to rank in the Top 10 for both 3-point field goals and rebounds in a career.
The 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward certainly grew from his first year.
“Just to see him grow -----— to come in as a kid who was out of shape,” Heath said. “I remember his first day at practice, and he didn’t even know if he could make it through sprints. He went from a guy that I said ‘yellow light, red light on your 3-point shot’ to ‘You can shoot the three.’ He knew going into this season that he was going to have to carry a bigger load, and I think he’s done a great job with it.”
Though Fitzpatrick has become a dominant force for the Bulls in his four years on the court, his off-the-court presence has become evident to Heath.
“He’s been the key guy in recruiting.” Heath said. “He’s helped recruit all the guys that have come in here.”
As a transfer, having only played one season at USF last year, junior forward Victor Rudd said he has noticed the impact of Fitzpatrick and has experienced it firsthand.
“He’s one of the guys that I’ve always looked up to, to know certain things,” Rudd said. “I think he’s been a great leader this year and I definitely appreciate what he does.”
The two forwards showed what they’re capable of in the Bulls’ last game against DePaul, being two of five players to score into double digits. Fitzpatrick led the team with 19 points, his highest since a 22-point performance against UConn on Feb. 3 earlier this season. He also led the team in rebounds with eight.
Now, in the Sun Dome, whether it be momentum from the previous game, the “Senior Day Part II” atmosphere with Fitzpatrick playing his last home game, or revenge on UConn from earlier in the season when they beat USF by five points in a game in which Fitzpatrick scored 22 points, it’s clear that USF will play with one goal — to win.