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USF’s Fitzpatrick has come a long way

Posted Feb 25, 2012 by Joey Johnston

Updated Feb 25, 2012 at 02:33 PM

Toarlyn Fitzpatrick was eager to impress, but he didn’t really want the ball as a University of South Florida freshman.

“From the get-go, I was a little bit scared,’’ he said. “I just wanted to rebound and not make any mistakes on offense. When it came to scoring, I was pretty much the last option.’’

And now?

He plays with supreme confidence, even when he settles behind the arc. Fitzpatrick, a sculpted 6-foot-8, 243-pound junior, is the Big East Conference’s second-best 3-point shooter.

“Toarlyn has been more than what I thought,’’ USF coach Stan Heath said.

The same thing can be said about USF (17-11, 10-5), which faces an important home matchup Sunday against the Cincinnati Bearcats (20-8, 10-5) at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The Bulls, picked for 14th in the Big East, are realistically in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament spot.

Looking for reasons why? Look to Fitzpatrick.

On a team filled with players who accept and execute their roles, Fitzpatrick exploits his strengths.

He’s USF’s leading rebounder (6.6) and fourth-best scorer (8.3). He’s second in blocked shots, tied for second in steals. And then there’s his 3-point marksmanship (43.2 percent).

“Toarlyn works hard,’’ USF junior guard Jawanza Poland said. “I’m sure the other teams aren’t sure what to do with him. He’s extremely consistent in everything he does.’’

But Fitzpatrick’s production has been an evolution.

At King High School, where he surpassed the 2,000-point career mark, led his team to the final four and was selected the Tampa Tribune’s player of the year, he was Mr. Everything. Initially, though, it wasn’t enough to attract USF’s interest.

Before his senior season, he signed with Georgia Southern. After a coaching change several months later, Fitzpatrick was released from his letter-of-intent. USF, with one scholarship remaining, took him this time.

“Playing for USF had been the furthest thing from my mind,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “They weren’t recruiting me and I wasn’t projected to play in a conference like the Big East when I was in high school.
“Then everything changed. Once I got here, I knew I had to try a lot harder to show I belonged in a school like this and a conference like this.’’

Due to injuries, Fitzpatrick actually started 22 games as a freshman – “To be honest, I wasn’t ready to play that role,’’ he said – but that experience provided an opportunity.

Heath began to see what USF really had.

“I thought he had an opportunity to be good and everybody knew how talented he was,’’ Heath said. “The question marks everyone had, they have all disappeared. His work ethic, his coachability, his being a great teammate, he’s above and beyond what everybody thought he would be.

“He has been a God-send.’’

Particularly when he stops and pops from 3-point land. It could make for a matchup nightmare against Cincinnati, which sometimes employs a four-guard lineup.

“I get open looks,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “When you have a point guard like A.C. (Anthony Collins), who draws a lot of defense, he can kick it to you and give you a good look. I practice a lot and shoot with confidence. They’ve been going in.’’

“I was the first one in high school to say, ‘Why is that big kid (Fitzpatrick) shooting threes?’ ‘’ Heath said. “Now I don’t say anything. I can’t wait until he gets an open look.’’

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