Chris Fouch excels off bench for Drexel
Recruiters didn't go after guard, but he finds success as a super sub for Dragons
Call it the Chris Fouch conundrum.
The Drexel guard is the reigning Colonial Athletic Association rookie of the year who's now a sophomore and the conference's second-leading scorer with 19.1 points per game. But 40 games into his college career, Fouch is still waiting to make his first start.
"Everyone asks me," Dragons coach Bruiser Flint said with a laugh. "I think, 'What difference does it make?' He plays 30 minutes [per game]. He shoots every ball.
"Everyone knows he's the guy [who's] going to score."
Opposing defenders know it. Those who watched him once score 72 points in an AAU game know it. And so does best friend Kemba Walker, now a national player of the year candidate with UConn. Walker believes it was Fouch who was the best shooter on their star-studded New York Gauchos team.
"By far," said Walker, currently the nation's leading scorer.
The question then becomes, why didn't most college coaches see what Drexel saw in Fouch? The 6-foot-2 sharpshooter with the quick release always could generate instant offense, but he wasn't exactly an immediate hit with talent evaluators on the recruiting trail.
Overlooked and underrated, Fouch still projected patience and quiet confidence in his game -- traits that would serve the Bronx native well on his way to emerging as one of the great sixth men in college basketball.
"I knew my time would come," said Fouch, whose families both on and off the court saw to it that he would get that opportunity.
"F4L" stands for Family For Life, and Fouch has that tattooed on his left wrist to signify the bond with his former teammates on the under-17 Gauchos team he grew up playing for. The McDonald's All-American Walker, Darryl Bryant (West Virginia), Durand Scott (Miami) and Jordan Theodore (Seton Hall) were players he valued as friends rather than prospects he worried would overshadow him.
The high-flying Gauchos didn't lack for exposure. During the summer of 2007, the team won high-level tournaments such as the Cactus Classic, Nike Main Event and Peach Jam. Fouch was the only guy among them who didn't receive major recruiting interest despite winning MVP honors at the Nike Super 6 Invitational and hitting a memorable, buzzer-beating 3-pointer in overtime in the Peach Jam championship game that sent the Gauchos fans rushing onto the court to celebrate.
Fouch ultimately committed to Drexel, the school that had begun recruiting him as a high school sophomore. It was only then that bigger schools began calling Gauchos coach Emanuel "Book" Richardson, who had spent the years leading up to the decision talking up his silent assassin to no avail.
"I got contacted a lot after the fact," said Richardson, now an assistant coach at Arizona. "I laughed. Where were you two months ago? Where was the inquiry? Guys aren't doing their jobs. Guys have not done their jobs.
"He's totally been overlooked, but he never, ever, ever complained or said anything."
Said Flint, who credits former assistant Tony Chiles with recruiting Fouch: "Chris just did his job. He didn't get upset. Those guys [his teammates] got the accolades. He didn't get jealous."
Fouch preferred to let his shooting do the talking. The spring before he enrolled at Drexel, he put his firepower on display by scoring 72 points in the IS8 spring league tournament in Queens, draining 16 3-pointers in the process. "The rim was so big, like the ocean," Fouch said.
His coaches credit his mother, June, for keeping him grounded and refusing to let him get caught up in the AAU hype. A corrections officer who preached discipline and education, June would have none of it when it was suggested that her son, who was young for his grade, should consider attending prep school for a year and see whether his recruiting stock would improve.
"You're playing ball to go to school, not going to school to play ball," she said.
When Fouch landed wrong on a dunk attempt and tore his ACL in the fall before his freshman season, the news that he would miss the season moved June to tears, but she comforted her 17-year-old by telling him, "God was preparing you for something."
Fouch spent the medical redshirt season getting acclimated to the college classroom and stronger in the weight room, then came back last season to establish himself as the CAA's top freshman with 11.3 points per game.
This season, Drexel is off to an 8-2 start with the help of its streaky shooter. Fouch hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 25 seconds remaining in overtime in a win over Rider on Dec. 11, and with that momentum, the Dragons went on the road and upset previously unbeaten Louisville three days later.
He appears comfortable lying in wait, playing the third-most minutes on the team and shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc. The only thing Fouch doesn't get is the public address announcer calling out his name during pregame introductions.
Defense, Flint said, is what Fouch needs to improve on if he is to step into the starting lineup. The 176-pounder is also continuing to gain strength so he can better avoid injury (he missed time last season because of a dislocated shoulder) and withstand the wear and tear that might come with developing into a multidimensional and more featured scorer for Drexel.
"I always thought that he could have went to a bigger school," Walker said, "but he made the right decision."
Walker communicates regularly with Fouch, and the two top-50 scorers keep track of each other's statistics. "Every time we speak, I say, 'I'm going to catch you,'" Fouch said with a chuckle.
Fouch dares to try, yet, he also keeps perspective. The schools that snubbed him? He concedes that their decisions were difficult to understand but realizes that they led him to do big things as a Dragon even while coming off the bench.
"Things like that happen," Fouch said. "I used it as motivation to work harder, to prove I should have been talked about like everyone was."
Diamond Leung covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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