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Chuck Landon: No blaming MU, WVU for missing FGCU star

Mar. 30, 2013 @ 12:15 AM

The second-guessing was ever so predictable.

No sooner did West Virginians discover Florida Gulf Coast's Chase Fieler was a Parkersburg native than Marshall and WVU fans began wondering why the Herd or Mountaineers didn't recruit him.

The already disgruntled Mountain State fans saw the 6-foot-8, 205-pound Fieler throw down the most momentous dunk in the NCAA Tournament to seal a 76-68 win over Georgetown and faster than anyone could say, "Gentlemen, start your second-guessing," a controversy burst into flames.

Then, when Fieler delivered another highlight dunk over a San Diego State victim during an 81-71 victory in the round of 32. ... well, the questions just grew.

So, why indeed didn't Marshall or WVU recruit this kid?

Probably for the same reasons no other NCAA Division I programs except unknown Florida Gulf Coast offered Fieler.

He was a project.

Yes, Fieler was 6-8 with very long arms and a 31-inch vertical leap. Yes, he was athletic, thanks to his mom, a former Ohio University volleyball player and his dad, an ex-Ohio football player. Yes, he actually was a small forward, who could shoot the 3-pointer effectively.

But Fieler also was very, very raw.

Although he averaged 21.2 points, 13.8 rebounds, 3.6 blocked shots and 3.4 assists during his senior year (2009-10) at Parkersburg South High School, he was a distant fourth in West Virginia Player of the Year voting.

Who finished ahead of Fieler? I have no idea. But I do know none of that trio made an impact in this March Madness.

Fieler certainly did.

As for Marshall, the Herd didn't recruit the Parkersburg native because Tom Herrion just had gotten the head coaching job and the only prep player he signed with 6-9 academic non-qualifier J.P. Kambola.

Instead, Herrion opted for immediate help from 6-10 Orlando Allen, a graduate senior transfer; 6-9 Aundra Williams, junior college transfer; 7-2 Yous Mbao, transfer from Marquette; 6-6 Johnny Thomas, a graduate junior transfer; and 6-2 Johnny Higgins, a juco transfer point guard.

Besides, Herrion admits he never had heard of Fieler in those recruiting days. I imagine WVU's Bob Huggins would say the same.

So, how did Fieler end up at Florida Gulf Coast? And how did he improve so much?

The West Virginian signed with the Fort Myers, Fla.-based school because fellow Parkersburg South High graduates Ryan Hopkins and Bryan Crislip were the first two basketball recruits in FGCU history in 2001.

That created a precedent, not to mention pipeline. Particularly since Crislip is back in Parkersburg and is involved in the management of a family-operated fitness center.

As for improvement? That's what happens when a raw kid gets to play a lot on a bad team. As a true freshman, Fieler played 638 minutes in 30 games, including 15 starts, for a team that finished with a 10-20 record. He averaged 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds.

Then as a sophomore, Fieler started 30 of 32 games, averaging 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds as the Eagles won a school-record 15 games.

This season the 20-year-old junior averages 12.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and is noted for his memorable slam dunks.

But would Fieler be anywhere near as good as he is now if he had signed with Marshall, been redshirted his freshman year and was just now hoping for a few meaningful minutes?

Of course not.

Fieler wouldn't have near the view from his dorm room, either.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2827 or clandon@herald- dispatch.com.

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