The first time he watched Cantrell Fletcher on tape, Towson University men's basketball coach Pat Kennedy liked Fletcher's fire and hustle and smarts with the ball.
Kennedy also saw an ideal way to plug the team's most glaring hole. So one of the first things he did after signing with Towson last spring was convince the well-traveled junior college star point guard to commit to the Tigers.
The 3-6 Tigers, looking for their first winning season in nine years, remain a work in progress. But Towson has found its quarterback in Fletcher, who, at 5 feet 8, is a year removed from running the nation's most prolific JuCo offense at Cecil Community College and has brought his calming influence to the floor at Towson.
"A team like us can't afford to make a lot of mistakes and turn the ball over a lot," Fletcher said. "I don't worry about stats. I do the little things and make the hustle plays for my team. If a team takes one thing away from me, I find something else."
Despite a sore Achilles' tendon from early in the season and more recently a sprained left ankle that knocked him out of last week's 84-69 victory at VMI, Fletcher has established himself. He leads the team in assists (33), has shown his defensive value with a team-high 16 steals, ranks third on the team in scoring (9.4 ppg) and is shooting 74.1 percent at the free-throw line.
But it's Fletcher's solid, 2.6-turnover average that perhaps has helped Towson more than anything.
Instead of relying on junior Mike Green and sophomore Trevan Jackson at the point, Fletcher's presence has allowed Kennedy to move both of them primarily to the shooting guard spot. Green leads the team with 12.2 ppg, two points higher than last year.
"It's a big load off of me. It's been a lot better for me, as far as getting shots," said Green, who struggled running the offense a year ago.
"Cantrell sets me up. He can find guys wherever he is on the court. He's showed he can play Division I basketball. He thinks the game. He's probably the smallest guy in Towson history to score 20 points in a game [in a win over Morgan State]."
"When I saw tapes of Cantrell in high school [at Philadelphia's St. John Neumann], I saw a guy who was going to keep his team in the game," said Kennedy, who signed Fletcher first.
"Some guards can't do that. They get rattled, they turn it over, they can't handle the constant pressure and keep their team in the offense. We needed a guy who could do it."
Fletcher, who originally signed with Siena before leading St. John Neumann to the Philadelphia Catholic League title game as a senior - he was named first-team, all-city twice - never made it to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference school. Academic issues and the departure of head coach Louis Orr for Seton Hall led Fletcher to leave Siena and sit out a year.
He ended up at Kilgore (Texas) Community College as a part-time starter, then moved closer to home at Cecil CC, where he last year energized an offense that led the JuCo ranks with 104.9 points a game. The Seahawks won their first Maryland junior college state tournament title and went 28-4.
Fletcher visited Hawaii and drew serious interest from Tulsa before he met Kennedy and made up his mind about his final collegiate stop.
"When I found out he had coached Sam Cassell and Bobby Sura [at Florida State], that was big. [Kennedy] lets his guards play, and he likes it up-tempo," Fletcher said. "Once I get my other guys running with me, they'll start hitting more shots. We're going to get better."