It was going to be a taxing year for the West Geauga boys basketball team as they entered the 2020-21 season.
During the summer of 2020, coach Jeff Javorek resigned, causing Youngstown State University commit and all-time leading scorer Josh Irwin to transfer to the International Basketball Academy. The Wolverines stumbled to a 1-10 finish, and coach Dan Jones soon departed after the season’s end.
After suffering their worst finish since the 2007-08 campaign, the Wolverines looked for a way to improve. Forced to look for their third coach in less than a year, the Wolverines went with a familiar face by hiring veteran coach Jim Fisher to a one-year deal in the month of May.
This marks the first varsity head coaching position for Fisher, 57, in more than 30 years of coaching. He said it was an opportunity he could not pass up. Fisher almost did not apply when the position officially opened up in the month of April.
“I had just retired from the Internal Revenue Service,” said Fisher. “I thought ‘Do I really want to get involved with this?’ But I had spent 30 years in basketball. I really love the sport and thought rarely do you get a second chance and this was a second chance for me because I started my career as a basketball coach and figured I could end my career as a basketball coach.”
Hailing from Erie, Pennsylvania, Fisher first developed a love for the game when his older sister’s boyfriend, Tom Hansen, played hoops with him. Hansen was a member of the 1974 Notre Dame team that snapped UCLA’s 88-game winning streak.
Fisher played some point guard during his time at Erie Academy but did not play sports in college. During his sophomore year at Mercyhurst University, he received a phone call from his high school coach Paul Demyanovich to return to his alma matter.
“I never really thought about coaching until coach Demyanovich called me,” Fisher said. “He asked me to come back and be the coach of the junior varsity team. Once I did it, it was one of those things that I just couldn’t shake. I got a thrill out of it and really enjoyed it when the boys succeeded and implemented the plans we worked on.”
Two years after he graduated from college, Fisher moved to Cleveland when his wife, JoAnne, accepted a nursing position at the Cleveland Clinic. He soon got a job working as an accountant for the IRS.
“I really didn’t have the contacts up there because I was involved with the IRS,” said Fisher “It took me a little while to make some contacts to get back involved with coaching.”
Fisher may have taken some time away from coaching basketball, but his love for the game never faded. One of the first things he did when he came to Cleveland was purchase a 20-game package for Cleveland Cavaliers games and made multiple trips to the Richfield Coliseum.
He soon got the coaching itch again when his eldest son, Bill, started showing interest in basketball. Fisher discovered that St. Gregory the Great, a Catholic school in South Euclid, had multiple coaching vacancies. Fisher saw it as the perfect opportunity to get back in the game and agreed to coach fourth through seventh grade basketball.
Four years later, Fisher ventured off on his own and founded his own Amateur Athletic Union program, the Eastside Jags
“I knew a number of kids that were my son’s age who were interested and looking for opportunities to play,” explained Fisher. “We started with a group of his friends and as the program became more successful, people started reaching out to me. Some of those kids didn’t even play AAU anywhere else and they really enjoyed it. I had kids from Hawken, Kirtland, Mayfield, Gilmour and Parma. I was very happy with the success we had. We did win tournaments and I felt we were competitive with some of the better AAU programs at that time.”
As the Jags continued to flourish, AAU starting becoming more popular in the State of Ohio. It soon reached a point where
several AAU programs had become so large
that Fisher found it difficult to find open facilities for gym time.
He laid the Eastside Jags to rest in 2011, but embarked on a new chapter of his coaching career when he joined The National Basketball Academy, a year-round basketball training
and development organization.
“It was a good experience,” said Fisher. “It was actually pleasant because I just basically had to coach. They had a director on the East side who would schedule all the gym time and the
tournaments, so pretty much all I had to do was do the coaching.”
He coached with the TNBA for eight years before stepping down. Just when he thought his coaching career had reached its final chapter, he was pulled back in when his son Bill was contacted by Jones to become the new coach of the West Geauga freshman boys team.
Bill, a 2010 graduate of Gilmour Academy, may have worked a number of basketball clinics, but he had little coaching experience so he asked his Dad to give him a hand and Fisher became an assistant coach. It was one of the most stressful seasons that he had
Before the freshmen team’s season even started, numerous players contracted the coronavirus and had to quarantine. Even though he was only supposed to be the assistant coach for the freshmen, he and Bill took on more responsibility throughout the year.
“We ended up coaching all three teams (varsity, junior varsity and freshman) for a six-week period,” said Fisher. “Because West
Geauga had a bad COVID situation last year, we were actually shut down three or four times so we actually coached all three teams last year at one point in time.”
Fisher said that as challenging as it was on the coaching staff, it was just as hard on the players as the lack of continuity put a
damper on their spirits.
“You could see it in the body language that they were just down,” said Fisher. “There would be times when they would come off of quarantine and only have one practice then have a game. The more you practice, the more confidence you have in doing things and because of the way we were shut down you could see that they just lacked confidence in things they were trying to do.”
After Jones announced he would not be returning for another season, then athletic director Ben Stehura called Bill to gauge his interest in becoming the new coach. Bill did not feel he was ready to become the varsity coach so he referred Stehura to his father. Although he needed to take some time to mull it over, Fisher decided he was ready for this opportunity and officially submitted his name.
“I am very excited,” he said. “This is like a second chance. I’ve loved basketball from the get go, and have been involved in a number of different situations over 30 years. I’ve adored the kids we have out there and I’m hoping I can help them turn the program around.”