Coach Fite Settles in at SU
When Chris Fite stepped onto the University of Rochester’s campus he did not know what was ahead of him. The following four years included a stellar basketball career, a Division III basketball National Championship and a Most Outstanding Player award. All of which came before heading overseas to play professionally and finally returning to the United States to become a coach.
Coming out of high school, Fite was recruited heavily by the Yellowjackets. With some coercing from his parents and high school coach, Fite decided to visit campus.
“Rochester did a great job of recruiting me. They were very persistent throughout the process,” Fite said. “When I went up there, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of competition basketball wise…I could see myself fitting there and having an impact.”
Fite made an immediate impact on the team, playing quality minutes as a freshman and increasing his role over the following three years under head coach Mike Neer. Fite was named the 1990 NCAA Division III Final Four Most Outstanding Player, helping his team to a 27-5 record and a DIII National title as a sophomore.
“It was one of the best decisions of my life,” Fite said about choosing to play collegiately at Rochester.
Fite’s exceptional play in the tournament earned him Sports Illustrated’s small-college Player of the Week following the championship game.
The two-time NABC All-American, scored 2,066 points, blocked 179 shots, collected 1,023 rebounds and made 731 field goals while playing in college. Fite’s career points and blocked shots rank first in Rochester history while his rebounds and field goals made rank second in school history.
What came after playing in college was a bit of surprise to Fite, playing professionally overseas.
“Originally, it didn’t even cross my mind that I could play after college,” Fite said about his basketball life after school. “Next thing you know I have seven years behind me in England.”
Fite played 11 seasons in Europe, wrapping up in 2003. He spent seven years in the British Basketball League, one year in Germany’s premier league before finishing his playing career in the top division of the Belgian National League.
After his playing career, Fite turned to coaching.
“I love the game, I had a high basketball IQ and I think that was part of my success as a player,” Fite said. “I felt as though I could convey that, in some respect, to players.”
One year coaching stints at Saint Vincent College (2004-05) and at his alma mater of Rochester (2005-06), set Fite up for eight years of coaching at Indiana University of Pa, spanning from 2006-13.
While at IUP, Fite was the primary assistant to Joe Lombardi, IUP’s head coach. Fite help aid the Crimson Hawks to a 149-65 record. IUP qualified for the NCAA Tournament in his final five seasons, including a 2012-13 PSAC Championship.
Leaving such a successful IUP program was not something that Fite was going to do at all costs. Coaching at IUP, which is in western Pennsylvania, Fite was close to his home town of Latrobe, Pa. Shippensburg University caught Fite’s eye and he decided to go for it.
“The Shippensburg job was the only job I applied to that summer,” Fite said about deciding to peruse the head coaching job at SU. “It was the one job that stood out to me.”
On June 20, 2013, Fite became SU’s new head men’s basketball coach, just the 10th in SU history.
Fite’s coaching career at SU started off rough when senior Dylan Edgar went down with a knee injury in the offseason. Edgar did not play a minute in the 2013-14 season and ended up red-shirting, giving him one more year of eligibility. The Raiders collected just three victories on the year, finishing last in the PSAC East.
Fite believes that a rough year one was a good thing to go through as it pertained to future success.
“As tough as year one was to go through it was very rewarding in a sense,” Fite said. “The guys really bought into what we were doing…even though we only had three wins, we were in a lot of games.”
In 2013-14, SU lost seven games by less than seven points.
“As tough as it was to go through, I feel as though we (the team) are all were stronger and better because of it,” Fite said. “We are more prepared to be successful.”
Year two began with recruiting four players who made immediate impacts for SU, while also having Edgar return from injury. Fite did lose SU’s leading scorer, Joe Lococo as he transferred to play at West Liberty University. Due to a less than perfect 2013-14 season, SU was picked to finish last in the PSAC East for 2014-15.
The 2014-15 season included a drastic turn around for Fite and the Raiders. Fite coached the Raiders to 13 wins, the most since 2006-07 when the Raiders won 17 games under head coach Dave Springer.
“We had to make a style change and the way we played, we really played to our strengths this year and that was to Dylan,” Fite’s primary assistant coach Jaren Gembe said. “And that’s a testament to Coach Fite.”
Gembe, a former player at SU from 2007-11, was an assistant coach on Fite’s staff in 2013-14 before being named the primary assistant in 2014.
Not only did the wins come in Fite’s second season, but the team statistics improved as well, especially on defense. SU held opponents to 10 less points per game than in 2013-14 while also limiting opponents to seven less rebounds a game.
“I think that it (defense) is an equalizer in a sense,” Fite said about his focus on defensive play “If you have guys that can defend and get locked into defensive game play…and take pride in taking offense away from teams…all of a sudden it gives them confidence and belief that we can play with anybody we step out there with.”
SU led the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) and ranked third in all of Division II in 3-point field goal percentage defense at 29.1 in 2014-15. The Raiders finished third in the PSAC conference in field goal percentage defense with 40.1.
The 2014-15 season also included a PSAC playoff berth. The Raiders finished sixth in the PSAC East and faced Kutztown University in the first round. SU lost to the Golden Bears, but the season was not a loss.
“I’m very proud of how the team performed this year and I’m very proud of the progress we made,” Fite said about a successful 2014-15 season.
Despite being the head coach and having the final say on most things basketball, Fite is not the type of coach to take total control of a team. He uses his coaching staff and players when coaching a game and making decisions.
“He’s more than willing to ask for our (the coaches) opinions and even from the players,” Gembe said. “He’s very much a player’s coach.”
Fite coached two players to double-digit averages in Edgar and freshman Justin McCarthur. McCarthur was also named the PSAC Eastern freshman of the week four times while Edgar was named the PSAC Eastern athlete of the week on Nov. 17.
Not only does Fite have a passion for basketball, he involves the basketball team with the community in a variety of ways.
“That’s very important, being active in the community, going to different schools and boys and girls clubs,” Gembe said about the team’s involvement with the Shippensburg community. “That’s very important to him, the coaching staff and the program as a whole.”
On the court, the radical difference from year one to year two can only install hope into the team, but Fite says the team will take it day-by-day before looking into the future.
“From day one our whole approach is to seize the opportunity,” Fite said. “We are going to be better than last year, but how much better than that? Only time will tell.”