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Derek Fisher's 'passion for teaching' brings next challenge: high school basketball at Crespi

Derek Fisher, a 5-time NBA champion as a player, has coached in the NBA and WNBA. Now he's coaching high school basketball in Los Angeles.

If you're driving on Ventura Boulevard in Encino, a suburb of Northern Los Angeles County, you'd never see Crespi High School from the road. It sits behind a Ralph's Supermarket on the Southside of the boulevard.

The location doesn't sound glamorous, but the athletic tradition at Crespi is rich. It's where eventual NFL pros like Russell White and Christian Fauria prepped. Major Leaguers Jeff Suppan and Trevor Plouffe donned the brown and yellow as well. 

However, the basketball program has had the most recent success, turning out NBA players like London Perrantes, De'Anthony Melton and Brandon Williams.

It's a quick rundown of the past at Crespi, but the future has NBA-laced bloodlines, too, now that former Laker Derek Fisher is the new boys basketball coach.

"I was familiar enough with Crespi. I trained here in the off-season at times when I played several years ago," Fisher said. "I knew enough about where it's located, the type of people you interact with on campus. The respect the program has had over the years."

Fisher, 49, coached the New York Knicks in the NBA and the LA Sparks in the WNBA. Yet, there he was on a Wednesday afternoon, prepping his practice plan for teenagers in an 8x8, cluttered office – all smiles. Why high school basketball?

"I truly have a passion for teaching. The basic skills of the game, slowing the game down and really trying to help players connect on not just what to do, but why you do it, when you do it, how it impacts your game and your team's game," Fisher said.

New Encino Crespi boys basketball coach Derek Fisher in his new office on campus.

Derek Fisher, 5-time NBA champion with the Lakers, in his new office at Crespi High.

Drew Fisher, Derek's son, is a senior at Crespi after transferring from Sierra Canyon. Derek is also the stepfather to Isaiah and Carter Barnes, the freshmen twins of former NBA wing Matt Barnes. Sons at the high school level gave Fisher another reason to get in at the prep level.

"I figured instead of me complaining like every other parent, I'd roll my sleeves up and get involved in the process," Fisher said laughing. "So, that's why I'm here."

When Fisher got hired in early August, questions about his commitment to the program were raised. How long would he be at Crespi before something bigger came along? How long will it be before Crespi is looking for another head coach?

Fisher, the 5-time NBA champion, answered those questions head on.

"No, I don't plan to coach high school basketball until I'm 65," Fisher joked, but he answered with candor, which was refreshing.

"I am going to be here for a while for sure, the next four or five years," Fisher said. "I'm dedicated to establishing and building a program that is sustainable, beyond me and well beyond that, regardless of what my opportunities may or may not be along the way."

Fisher continued: "Part of the conversations with the school ... that was a fair question from them, and they know we live in the real world, they know coaches in all sports, get job offers to do different things at different times. There could be some things that are tempting along the way, but our children are involved in this decision as well."

Isaiah (left) and Carter Barnes will contribute as freshmen for Crespi this season.

Isaiah (left) and Carter Barnes will contribute as freshmen for Crespi this season.

Fisher will have sophomore standouts Joe Sterling and Stephen Kankole, along with junior forward Peyton White at his disposal as he enters his debut season in the Mission League, which includes Harvard-Westlake, Notre Dame/Sherman Oaks, Sierra Canyon, St. Francis, Chaminade, Loyola and Alemany.

"The next few years, I'm super locked in on Crespi. I won't be seeking jobs," Fisher added.

Fisher coached the Celts for the first time in a fall tournament at Cal Lutheran University on September 9-10. Crespi won the tournament, going 4-0 without star Joe Sterling, who was with the team but sat out due to a nagging back. Peyton White was named Tournament MVP.

"There's a renewed energy," Sterling said. "A new style of play, too, we're playing a lot faster."

"The Barnes twins played well and brought a ton of energy off the bench," Sterling added.

The high school basketball season begins November 13. Mission League play will begin in January. Crespi plays Harvard-Westlake at home on Jan. 10, Sierra Canyon on the road Jan. 12, and Notre Dame on the road Jan. 24.

The Mission League does one round of games before competing in an end-of-year tournament, similar to conference tournaments in college. The top four (of eight) teams earn an automatic bid to the playoffs.

Crespi's full schedule has yet to be released.