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Lewistown's Fischer Brown finds growth, challenges to be fruitful in year at Wasatch Academy

Fischer Brown
Posted at 5:01 PM, Apr 05, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-05 19:01:32-04

MISSOULA — Mount Pleasant, Utah, isn’t much different in size than Lewistown.

And basketball is still basketball.

But that’s about where the similarities end for Fischer Brown and his experiences at Wasatch Academy in Utah and Fergus High School in central Montana.

“The transition was extremely difficult,” Brown said in a virtual interview with MTN Sports. “And it really opened my eyes right away. First week of practice, you start trying to play like you were at Lewistown and you realize right away that these guys (are a different) caliber.”

After a sensational start to his high school career at Lewistown — where he averaged a school-record 23.1 points per game as a junior while helping the Golden Eagles to a 24-0 record and the 2023 Class A state championship — Brown made the difficult decision to play his final year of high school basketball at Wasatch Academy, a prep school about 90 minutes outside of Salt Lake City.

Wasatch competes in the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference (NIBC), playing a national schedule featuring some of the top high school players in the country. At Wasatch, Brown played alongside Juni Mobley, a consensus top-50 player in the nation, according to recruiting websites, and played against the likes of Cooper Flagg, the No. 1-ranked player in the Class of 2024 bound to play college basketball at Duke.

“They’re much closer to a college basketball team than they were a high school basketball team, and I guess I didn’t realize that enough, kind of let my ego get in the way and thinking, ‘Oh, I’ll just kind of come right in and be able to play right away,’” Brown said.

By his standards, Brown got off to kind of a slow start with Wasatch in limited minutes, but he credited his coaches with bringing him along and grooming him into a larger role. Eventually, the 6-foot-5 guard was playing steady minutes and making big contributions.

“I got more comfortable just playing against them. You start picking up tricks and using your strengths to your advantage and that sort of thing so that it definitely got easier as it went along. You just got to get more confident,” said Brown, who finished the season averaging 11.9 points per game, shooting 46% from the floor, 43% from 3-point range and 93% at the free throw line.

Meanwhile, Brown is still finishing up his high school coursework. Though Wasatch’s schedule took Brown and the team across the United States, they still had to find time for their studies.

During the season, it was a lot of awkward hours, red-eye flights and time zone changes with quick turnarounds sandwiched around practices and games.

Preseason might have been even more grueling. Brown’s daily routine at the beginning of the year started with practice from 5 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. and weight lifting from 8:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. He had classes until 3:15 p.m., and then the team was back in the gym until 6:30 p.m. Brown would make an extra 200 shots before heading to study hall.

“I thought it was mainly a basketball school and that you could kind of get away with stuff, but no, they take their schooling seriously here,” Brown said. “For my days, it’s a lot of study hall hours just bouncing from teacher to teacher trying to get caught up on classwork. Trying to stay up in a pre-calculus class but also write an English paper, that’s not easy to do.”

The overloaded schedule was a shock to Brown, as was the heightened attention paid to him and his team. North Carolina coach Hubert Davis attended one of the team's early practices.

And some of the biggest names in college basketball were often in attendance, as Wasatch played home games in Utah but also played in Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Indiana, South Carolina and Virginia.

“I’ve seen all these Final Four coaches in these gyms,” Brown said. “And it’s definitely a shock because you go in our first preseason game — it wasn’t even a (regular) season game yet — and there were coaches all along the baselines. It’s nerve-racking, but it definitely opens up. If you can play well, it gives you that opportunity to show what you can in front of these high-level guys and high-level colleges.”

Which, of course, was the point. Brown opted to play for a prep program to showcase his game in front of college coaches from around the country. And it paid off.

On March 24, Brown announced his commitment to play college basketball at Western Carolina, an NCAA Division I program located in Cullowhee, N.C., about three hours west of Charlotte.

“When the coaches originally reached out, I kind of felt a connection with them right away,” Brown said. “They were very genuine people when they came to talk to me, and they made an effort to come see me in person, too. It’s definitely hard when you’re playing on a national schedule, so being able to talk to them in person definitely makes it easier.

“We went out to visit the place, and the campus was beautiful. And it definitely wasn’t what my parents were hoping for over on the East Coast. But just talking with the people and then seeing what their program, where they plan to be and everything — it’s a new coaching staff, but they’ve got big plans for the future — I think it just drew me to it. I want to be a part of that.”

The Catamounts went 22-10 this past season and finished fourth in the Southern Conference standings, a continued ascension under coach Justin Gray, who just completed his third season at WCU.

Helping a program reach new heights is something Brown knows about. As a sophomore in 2022, he was part of a Lewistown team that reached the state championship game for the first time in 34 years. When the Eagles won the 2023 title, it was their first since 1979.

“I’m just grateful for that team. They made me the player and person I am,” Brown said. “There’s a lot that you can take out of basketball and throw into life and those lessons that you learn — how to be competitive, how to have a winning mindset, how to be unselfish — those are things that you can use in life and in the real world, too. And so I’m just grateful that team helped shape and mold my game and my personality today.”

Even with Brown’s departure, Lewistown, coached by Scott Sparks, made a run to the championship game this season. The Eagles overcame a slow start and slew of injuries to peak in the postseason, ultimately placing runner-up to Dillon at the Class A state tournament.

Brown’s younger brother, Kason, was a sophomore on this year’s Lewistown squad.

“I was always watching the games, and that’s hard to do with the travel schedule,” Brown said. “But I find time. Even if I got to watch it on a flight or in an airport, I’ll always be watching.

“There were times, like the state championship game, where I was watching it at a Waffle House at 11 o’clock at night, which is crazy for some of the other people, but for me those are guys that I grew together with so much that I’ll support them anywhere, no matter where I’m at.”