He goes to Sooners football games and “every other sporting event” on campus that he can. He is an Academic All-Big 12 honoree with a 3.3 GPA majoring in leadership and administration with a minor in history.
And on the basketball court, Fitzgerald, a senior power forward, is one of Oklahoma’s steadiest performers. In Norman, Fitzgerald found what he was searching for during a high school career that spanned four high schools in four years: stability.
“I didn’t want to go through the changes that I went through in high school,” said Fitzgerald, who attended St. Frances, Towson Catholic, Owings Mills and Brewster (N.H.) Academy. “I think the big key for me was just coming out here and staying out here. Whatever adversity I had to go through, just fighting through it, keep playing. That was a big key for me – a really big key for my family. Get stability out there and just go from there.”
Fitzgerald’s college career hasn’t been without complication. As a freshman, Fitzgerald averaged just 4.8 points, 2.0 rebounds and 0.5 assists in 15.7 minutes per game. He quickly discovered how much harder he’d have to work to be successful in the Big 12.
“I was too heavy to play in this conference,” he said. “I was 6-8, 265, 270. Sometimes I have to change my game. [I added a] mid-range jump shot [and tried to] keep my low-post skills. I just kept working it. I kept working it, weight started going down.”
After averaging 12.6 points and 5.0 rebounds as a sophomore, Fitzgerald put up 12.1 points and 5.0 rebounds per game as a junior. His almost predictable production was a boon for first-year coach Lon Kruger last season, but the Sooners struggled through a 15-16 season, which included a 5-13 mark in conference play.
“[It’s tough] knowing that we gave away games,” Fitzgerald said. “We would get in so many games, and we gave away seven games that we had the halftime lead. Little mistakes just piled up on us. That was really big for us.”
But despite the disappointment of his junior year, Fitzgerald is optimistic heading into his final season with the Sooners. Part of that is based on his own production. Fitzgerald was unstoppable at times, most notably in a February game against Iowa State when he shot 11-for-19 from the field for a career-high 27 points. He also poured in 21 points on 9-for-10 shooting in a win over No. 18 Kansas State.
He plans to continue playing the role of leader and low-post presence on a Sooners squad that returns all five starters.
“The talent is there. It’s just about us putting everything together and working as hard as we can,” Fitzgerald said. “The talent level that we have, all starting five guys are returning, that’s the real big key for us. That leadership, some of that senior leadership we have is really a key for us. I feel like that’s a big factor that we want to have this year.”
Fitzgerald says that the first three years of his college career “flew by.” He’s looking forward to playing pro basketball after graduation, and pursuing a career in business after that. But for now, he’s savoring every last bit of his senior year, and doing everything in his power to make sure his college career ends in the NCAA tournament.
“That’s a major accomplishment,” Fitzgerald said. “Everyone has goals for this year. … We can definitely do it. That’s one of my big goals, to accomplish that – to say in my life that I’ve been to the NCAA tournament.”
The Sweet 16 is an occasional series profiling the best Division I college basketball players from the Baltimore area. Players were selected based on prior accomplishments and projections for the upcoming season.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun