Sweet 16: Andrew Fitzgerald, Oklahoma
The aftermath of Andrew Fitzgerald's sophomore year at Oklahoma was understandably "difficult" for the 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward.
The Sooners had just finished a 14-18 campaign, and the coach who recruited Fitzgerald to Norman – Jeff Capel – had been dismissed after his fifth season.
But Fitzgerald’s disappointment in saying goodbye to Capel was short-lived – especially when he found out who he’d be playing for over the course of his final two college seasons.
“Coach Capel was my guy,” said Fitzgerald, a Pikesville native. “He brought me in, and he’s got a great situation at Duke now being an assistant coach. Lon Kruger came in here and showed us a different kind of atmosphere and a different way to work. Nothing against Coach Capel, [because] I was kind of mad. But at the end of the day, I put it behind me and moved on with my life.”
Fitzgerald gave no thought whatsoever to transferring. For Kruger, the commitment of Oklahoma’s top returning scorer and rebounder was a welcome sign for the transition.
“Everything is new to the guys, so it’s something of an adjustment, that’s for sure,” said Kruger, who left UNLV for Oklahoma and has also been the coach at Florida, Illinois, Kansas State and with the Atlanta Hawks. “But Andrew has been great in terms of grasping everything and doing it with enthusiasm. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Said Fitzgerald: “I had a positive [first] meeting with [Kruger]. After meeting with him, I felt more relaxed and way more comfortable staying here. I felt way more comfortable staying here at Oklahoma.”
Fitzgerald’s development into one of the Big 12’s top young big men has been a long time coming. Ever since he suited up for St. Frances as a freshman, local basketball observers predicted great things for the nimble forward. But an itinerant high school career – Fitzgerald also played at Towson Catholic, Owings Mills and Brewster (N.H.) Academy – raised questions from some recruiting followers.
“Every school that I went to I had great experiences with the players and coaches and everything,” Fitzgerald said. “But I just didn’t have that comfortable feeling at every school.”
The exceptions to that rule were at his final two stops: Owings Mills – where he earned first-team All-Baltimore County honors in 2008 – and Brewster, where he emerged as the No. 6 player in New England for the 2009 class. A consensus four-star prospect, Fitzgerald chose the Sooners that year over Kentucky, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Texas A&M.
As a freshman, Fitzgerald appeared in 26 games for the Sooners, averaging 4.8 points and two rebounds. Then last year came Fitzgerald’s breakthrough campaign. The Baltimore County resident averaged 12.6 points and five rebounds, earning All-Big 12 honorable mention honors for his efforts.
“It was a great adjustment,” Fitzgerald said. “I had to drop some weight so I could be on the court. … I had to adjust really fast. I adjusted my freshman year, started 11 games that season, then came out sophomore year and started every game. I kept improving from there.”
Kruger said he “didn’t know much about” Fitzgerald before he got the OU job, but his early impressions of the junior forward were extremely positive. What about Fitzgerald’s game stood out to Kruger the most?
“That he can really score,” Kruger said. “He’s got a knack for hitting shots. He’s got good touch on mid-range jumpers, good feel for the game. He really worked hard and improved his conditioning. He’s done a nice job of that through summer and is doing a good job of that this fall.”
Fitzgerald said he couldn’t be happier with his situation in Norman. He’s found stability in the program, and a coach that has experienced the type of success he hopes to accomplish. Fitzgerald’s goal for his junior season is simple.
“Just win. Just win and make the tournament this year,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m not really paying attention to all the media right now because all I know is that this team, right now, is ready to play and win this year.”
The Sweet 16 is an occasional series profiling the 16 best Division I college basketball players from the Baltimore area. Players were selected based on prior accomplishments and projections for the upcoming season.
Previous Sweet 16 selections:
Roscoe Smith, Connecticut
Cleveland Melvin, DePaul
Kevin Thompson, Morgan State
Antonio Barton, Memphis
C.J. Fair, Syracuse
Brandon Young, DePaul
Sean Mosley, Maryland
Devon Saddler, Delaware
Devin Brown, Holy Cross
Eric Atkins, Notre Dame
Brendan Bald, Vermont
Jamar Briscoe, Charlotte
Dylon Cormier, Loyola
U.S. Presswire photo of Andrew Fitzgerald by Mark D. Smith / Feb. 26, 2011