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A teen's turnaround through basketball, in his own words

Eric Sondheimer
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It's not every day that I ask a high school athlete to write out his bio. Teenagers don't usually make the time or have the patience to look back and explain where they've come from.

But Keith Fisher's story was too important. People had been telling me to examine how the 6-foot-7 senior All-City player from Westchester High could successfully reach this point in his life —a scholarship is waiting for him at San Jose State — considering the obstacles he faced.

"I grew up on Broadway and 66th in the East side of South Central, where sounds of gunshots, police sirens and helicopters was nothing new."

So began Fisher's autobiographical sketch, as he tried to help me understand how he had become one of the best basketball players in the City Section.

"I never had a lot of the things other kids my age had. In middle school, I started to hang out with the wrong crowd. My grades started to drop."

In eighth grade, he was hanging out with peers who were more interested in gangs than grades, until Fisher's family intervened.

"My mom knew I was heading on the wrong track, so her, my aunt and godfather put me in basketball. My life changed forever."

His godfather, George North, remembers Fisher as a clumsy 6-foot-4 kid who used to wear baggy pants and was uncertain about his future.

"He didn't have any hope," North said. "There was no motivation."

Fisher's grade-point average was 0.9. The adults in his life felt they had failed him.

North, a travel-ball coach, got him playing. And he didn't care that Fisher was raw and not very good.

"I promised I'd mentor him," he said.

As a freshman at Lawndale Leuzinger, Fisher remembers teammates making fun of him because he didn't know what he was doing on the court. They called him "clumsy" and "dumb."

They told him, "You'll never be good at basketball."

But Fisher loved basketball.

"I drifted away from all the negative things and focused on basketball," he said recently. "That's what got my grades up. It was either not have good grades and not play basketball or have good grades to play. I wanted to play."

He transferred to Rancho Dominguez as a sophomore, then to Westchester as a junior. His work ethic helped him mature as a player and person.

North let him play on his travel team while others grumbled. Fisher ran into resistance, people questioning whether he was good enough. But his hard work produced improvement.

"He's going to outwork most people," Westchester Coach Ed Azzam said. "He's relentless on the court."

Fisher said he's proud of where he grew up, even if life can be difficult.

"It's my community. It's my home," he said. "It's dangerous there. A lot of people don't like walking around. But that's where I'm from. I love everything about it, from the cracks in the ground to the stray dogs. I'll always embrace it."

He's grateful he found basketball to challenge him on and off the court. He was carrying around and reading a book on campus, "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. Some people were surprised. Fisher smiled. See what basketball has done for him?

"It gave me a second chance," he said. "It changed everything."

"When people talk about me now, it's nothing but positivity, and everyone sees my improvement. From where I was to how far I came in such little time is just testimony to my hard work, dedication and determination to this game."

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATSondheimer

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 15, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "The word is basketball turned his life around" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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