Putting up a Fite: Mesa State forward not afraid to draw charges
Computer programs track just about every sports statistic imaginable.
In basketball alone, there are categories for points scored in the paint, points off turnovers, bench points, assist-to-turnover ratio ... everything except one category that’s near and dear to a coach’s heart:
You’d have to have someone breaking down game film to count just how many charges the Mesa State College men’s basketball team has taken this season.
The Mavs practice how to take a charge, know they’re expected to take a charge, and they’re willing participants.
By rough count, Lance Fite has taken 15 to 20 charges in the past six games.
“It’s not like I’m gonna jump up and block a dunk, so I might as well take them,” the 6-foot-7 junior forward said with a laugh after getting slammed to the floor a handful of times against CSU-Pueblo last Friday night in the game that clinched the Mavericks’ RMAC championship.
Mesa State (22-4) opens the RMAC Shootout at 7 tonight at Brownson Arena against the CSU-Pueblo (16-10), the team that upset the Mavs a year ago and helped prevent them from reaching the regional playoffs.
Mesa State is all but assured a spot in the national tournament, but can make a case to be the No. 1 seed and host the Central Regional tournament if it wins the RMAC Shootout.
Only a few weeks ago, when play against the RMAC West Division began, Fite fell into a slump on both ends of the floor. His point production went down, his rebounding went down, his turnovers went up. Fite was a victim of basketball’s Catch-22.
“You have to have confidence to play well, and you have to play well to have confidence,” Heaps said.
Fite, who transferred from Glendale (Ariz.) Community College, was trying to figure out his role. He wanted so badly to contribute and was playing a step too fast.
“He’d pass when he should shoot and he’d shoot when he should pass,” Heaps said. “You could tell he was not comfortable. It takes some of those kids awhile to make that adjustment to a different program.”
He averaged 8.3 points and 2.8 rebounds through the first 14 games, but over the next eight, scored only 4.3 points and had 1.3 rebounds a night.
Heaps tells his players if they’re in a scoring slump, find another reason to stay on the floor.
Fite found it on defense.
“Scoring is such a small part of the game and it gets so much more emphasis than it should,” Heaps said. “If you’ll defend, if you’ll rebound and don’t turn it over and do nothing but take good shots, even if you score two points, then you’re going to be a valuable person on the floor.”
Shorter than most post players in the conference, and not a big leaper, Fite uses his strength and tenacity to rebound. And he’s not afraid to step in front of a hard-charging opponent.
Coaches insist Fite is camping under the cylinder, an area this season that is an automatic block call.
“He’s not,” Heaps said. “That’s not where he’s taking it.”
It’s when he lands on his keister, though, and an official puts his hand behind his head and points the other way, signalling the charge, that Fite smiles and nods his head as he’s helped to his feet by his teammates.
Fite took a charge with 17 seconds left Saturday that helped seal the victory over New Mexico Highlands.
“That’s a technique and that takes guts to every week step in and take those charges,” Heaps said.
The Mavs once again have a post player who’s confident in his game. In the past four games, he’s averaged 13.7 points and 6.2 rebounds. And 3-5 charges.
“This late in the year, we need a confident me, we need a confident everybody,” Fite said. “If we play like we have the last couple of games, it’s easy to find confidence. They’ll look for you, they’ll tell you, ‘We’ll get you the ball and if not, get a rebound.’
“I was kind of getting out of my element, thinking I had to do too much. For awhile, they didn’t need me to score, they needed me to rebound, to pass to cutters, to take charges, and I’m fine with doing that.
“Me giving the ball to someone else is the same amount of points as if I scored.”