CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Elijah Fisher doesn’t fully grasp the reason he’s sitting in the bleachers at Queens University answering questions about everything from his background to his motivation for even lacing ‘em up. He’s just finished a scrimmage at the Jay Bilas Skills Camp and would, quote frankly, much rather be in the cafeteria with the rest of the campers inhaling hots dogs and French fries; not because he’s above a sit-down interview, it’s because, well, he’s 14.
Such is the life of a player widely regarded as the No. 1 rising freshman with the type of buzz that has him on an atypical trajectory.
“Elijah could be the best player to ever come out of Canada,” said Ro Russell, Fisher’s coach at Grassroots Elite (Canada). “His talent transcends age. He’s one of the best players in the country right now, regardless of class.”
Twenty-seven Canadian players have been taken in the NBA draft over the last 35 years, including two No. 1 overall picks; typically, that level of hype would create a certain degree of pressure for most players, but Fisher’s youth affords him a certain serenity that works in his favor.
“I don’t really think about it too much,” Fisher said. “I guess in a way it’s cool because that means my hard work is paying off. I don’t know, I just love to play.”
That much was evident during the scrimmage.
For the first few possessions, Fisher plays things low-key; as inconspicuous as a 6-foot-6 combo guard with national buzz can be.
It’s clear early on that his reputation precedes him with opposing players giving him their best shot on both ends of the floor.
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Fisher responds by taking the inbounds pass, outrunning the defense down the floor, crossing the last defender over and going up for the layup only to be clobbered at the rim.
“You have to call your own fouls in these scrimmages,” his teammate yells as they race back down court after the miss.
On the next possession, Fisher whips the ball behind his back, freezes his defender with a quick hesitation dribble, which elicits an “ooh” from the sidelines, and takes off for a trademark dunk.
But just as he brings the ball up the opposing player recovers by slapping his arm and nearly knocking him down.
“Come on man, call foul,” another teammate pleads.
Fisher shakes his head and simply says, “I don’t call fouls. Just keep playing.”
Over the course of the final three minutes of the scrimmage, Fisher racked up two steals, eight points, three of which were on dunks, and two blocks.
“I know what I can do,” Fisher said. “I always know, so I don’t worry about small stuff when I’m playing. I just try and respond with what I can do.”
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This past season at Crestwood Prep College (Toronto), Fisher averaged 21 points, seven rebounds and four steals as a sixth man.
“We had veteran upperclassmen and he was an eighth grader,” said Russell, who also coaches Fisher at Crestwood. “For all intents and purposes, he should start; he still ended the games. He likes to earn what he gets; that’s just how he’s built.”
This spring with Grassroots Elite, Fisher is posting 35 points and 14 rebounds a game. Next summer he’ll suit up for the Canadian National team, an opportunity he’s “excited” to pursue.
“Elijah’s got a chance to be a great player,” Bilas said. “He’s got every tool and he’s been very well coached. Talent-wise he’s the next big thing out of Canada and that comes with a lot of responsibility because Canada’s got a lot of talent. Basketball is not far off of hockey for them now. It’s all there for him.”
Russell has made sure of that, assembling a team of more than 10 professionals, everyone from a trainer to a spiritual advisor to a nutritionist and even a publicist, to give him the best chance to succeed.
Fisher also regularly confides in former Duke star and probable top three pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft R.J. Barrett as a mentor, guiding him through the process.
“We want to make sure that we don’t miss anything with him,” Russell said. “I really feel like he’ll be the best to ever come out of here and we want him to be supported in every aspect.”
The appointment coupled with the whole dynamic of his “team” starts to pull the sheet away from the giant elephant in the room.
The very taboo, very fair question: What if Fisher doesn’t pan out?
Countless “can’t miss” prospects have preceded Fisher only to peak early and fizzle late like Demetrius Walker.
Walker was touted as the next LeBron James, donning the cover of Sports Illustrated as the top 12-year-old in the country.
Still, the lofty forecasts were way off; Walker never panned out and went on to average eight points a game at New Mexico.
Russell isn’t concerned about that possibility for Fisher “because of the intangibles.”
“He’s got pro size already and that’s usually an issue with most young prospects with big reputations; plus he’s super skilled,” Russell said. “He dominates at the 17U level and with his age group it’s not fair. The biggest thing with Elijah is his will to win. He hates to lose more than he loves to win. He puts in the work so he won’t lose.”
Staying grounded despite the hoopla isn’t an issue for Fisher; his “family and faith in God keep everything normal for me.”
Fisher also patrols comments on social media looking for ideas on what he can work on.
“Most people want to hear how great they are and things like that,” Fisher said. “I look for comments where people talk negative and I work on that. I’m always looking for motivation to achieve my goals.”
Fisher’s primary goal is to earn a scholarship, go to college and then to the NBA so he can pay for his younger brothers to go to college.
If he lives up to the hype, Fisher would likely be eligible to enter the NBA draft out of high school. Most experts agree that the one-and-done rule will be over by 2022.
“Education is really important to me and my family,” Fisher said. “I definitely want to go to college. With the hype and everything else, I just look at it like I’m just starting out. I don’t feel like I’m good enough. My feet aren’t even in the water yet. I don’t look at it like I have to prove anything, I want to prove it. That’s how I approach every game.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY