Who wouldn’t want to come to San Diego and play ball in the sunshine of sunny Southern California?
That was the question that fans of the San Diego State Aztecs had to ask themselves year after year as they watched their big brothers to the north — UCLA, USC, LMU, Pepperdine and everyone else recruit all of the best in-state talent. San Diego state couldn’t stand on equal footing with California’s other Division 1 program because they didn’t play any real ball in San Diego.
Or so we all thought.
Somehow, between the UCLA glory days and now, that all changed. How did the biggest little city in the world get to be the basketball hub it is today? How did Viejas Arena become the place to be in San Diego and ignite a town not known for its sports fandom? And how did the Aztecs recruit a player who looks like he’s going to be a finalist for the Naismith Award in Jamaal Franklin from deep in the heart of Los Angeles?
It all started with Steve Fisher, a true player’s coach who needed a fresh start and is adept at getting results.
Fisher’s decorated resume is not without a blemish, but whether or not he could coach was never in question. In just his third season with San Diego State, he took them to a Mountain West Conference Title. By 2009, he led them to a school record 26 victories and a semifinal appearance in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT). Since then, the Aztecs have become a staple in the postseason, and they continue to reach new heights.
No regular season accomplishment has been greater or more significant, though, than ripping the tile of “Best Program in California” right from the UCLA Bruins. The team from Westwood rested on the laurels of rich tradition and past successes, but their recent struggles have caught up with them. Even with a top-ranked recruiting class and preseason hype in 2012-13.
No one was talking about the Aztecs, and they will still struggle to recruit against the powerhouses in the Pac-12, but that all shifted dramatically when the de facto state title made its way deep into Southern California to America’s Finest City. The student section at the Honda Center during the Wooden Classic was a sea of red. For long-suffering Aztec fans, it was a beautiful sight.
It took a perfect storm to get to that 78-69 victory over the Bruins, as Fisher could never get UCLA to commit to a season series with his squads at any point during his 15-year tenure on the sidelines. The Wooden Classic was moved to Anaheim for logistical reasons and to showcase better fan support. Like they’ve become accustomed to doing of late, the entire San Diego State contingent of fans, players and coaches delivered in a big way.
“I believe that we will win.” That’s the battle cry you’ll hear resounding through the rafters of Viejas Arena on “The Mesa” as it has become known. These fans aren’t just spewing out rhetoric. They are for real, and so is the program. At this point, the sky is the limit.
We all should believe that they will win — at this point, no one’s stopping them.