Aztecs to begin practice amid big expectations

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SAN DIEGO (AP) — Steve Fisher knows the expectations are going to be off the charts this year for his San Diego State Aztecs.

SDSU made it to the Sweet 16 last season for the second time in school history and the fans want more.

The Aztecs lost leading scorer Xavier Thames and leading rebounder Josh Davis, but welcome transfer Angelo Chol — who played at San Diego's Hoover High before going to Arizona — and a loaded recruiting class, although two of the four freshmen are hurt.

Few people expected the Aztecs to succeed like they did last year, when they went 31-5 and lost to Arizona in the West regional semifinals. Many will expect them to do so this year.

"Pressure is good if you manage it and know how to manage it," said Fisher, whose Aztecs begin practice on Friday. "Also, a lack of pressure and feeling the heat of expectations can be good, like last year. We're moving past the stage of saying, 'Wait until next year.' We knew we were going to be good. We won 31 games. We're going to be good this year. We're going to be hard-pressed to win 31 games. Not many teams in the country win 31 games."

SDSU reached the NCAA tournament for the school-record fifth straight year.

"We want to be in the tournament again," Fisher said. "When you're in the tournament, you've got a chance. Last year we kept saying, 'Why not us?' We've proven again and again that we're very close. Now how you go from very close to getting there is the tricky part. But you have to get up to bat to get there."

Expectations are high because of Chol, a 6-foot-9 forward who was part of Arizona's Sweet 16 team in 2012-13, and a freshman class that includes big men Zylan Cheatham and Malik Pope, and guards Trey Kell and Kevin Zabo.

Cheatham might not be ready to play until around Jan. 1 after having surgery on a broken foot.

The Aztecs are being cautious with Pope, who broke a leg during his junior season in high school and reinjured it a year ago. He hasn't played since.

Once everyone's healthy, Fisher won't be worried about how to divvy up playing time.

"It works itself out. You're always better when you have to say, 'How are we going to play all these guys?' compared to, 'Who can we play?'" Fisher said. "The only person that is happy when they're playing 40 minutes a game are the parents. You can't play 40 minutes in today's world, no matter who you are."

Fisher said he's going to try to get another player or two into the rotation this year.

SDSU returns starters JJ O'Brien, Skylar Spencer and Winston Shepard. They open Nov. 14 against Cal State Northridge.


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