USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - USF fans wouldn't have gotten to see Toarlyn Fitzpatrick's smooth jump shot if Georgia Southern had stuck with the coach who recruited him.
Fitzpatrick, a Tampa native, committed to Georgia Southern while at King High School and he was on the hook to head north until the school made a change at head coach. That gave him a chance to get out of his national letter of intent and get the attention of USF head coach Stan Heath.
"USF has always been a school I wanted to really recruit me out of high school, but I was a late bloomer. I committed my junior year to Georgia Southern and I end up having a really good senior year," he said. "Once I was able to get out of my national letter of intent I had such a good year that coach Stan Heath was like, 'OK this kid has developed. We might be able to use him.' "
Fortunately for Fitzpatrick, USF had one scholarship available at the time.
"That was all she wrote," he said with a smile.
USF fans have been pretty happy campers with Fitzpatrick since he signed, especially with how well he's playing this season. The junior is averaging 8.9 points, more than double than what he did last season, and he has put up double-digit scoring figures in eight games this season including the Bulls' past two.
"We always thought Toarlyn was a very versatile player that could do a lot of things on the court, which we're starting to see more and more of," Heath said.
Fitzpatrick posted 13 points and seven boards in an 81-78 win over Providence on Sunday. Fans who attended at the Tampa Bay Times Forum saw the 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward knock down three 3-pointers, which often bring on Fitzpatrick's signature bulls-eye gesture when he connects from long range.
"I tried to play to my strengths and make something happen," said Fitzpatrick, who has made 46 percent of his shots from 3-point range this season.
This wasn't always the case for the Tampa Bay Times' former Suncoast Player of the Year out of high school. Fitzpatrick was rushed into the starting lineup as a freshman when teammate Augustus Gilchrist went down with an injury.
"Coming into USF, the competition level was a lot different from high school," said Fitzpatrick, who started 22 games in 2009-10. "Every player is a good player, so it kind of messes with your confidence. I thought I was this coming in and now I'm starting to see that it's not the case. You really have to work hard in the offseason."
Fitzpatrick wound up averaging 4.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game that season, which kick-started his confidence as a Bull.
"At the time I wasn't really ready to step in the starting role as a freshman in the Big East, but I stepped up to the challenge and I was able to do a few things to help our team," he said.
Fitzpatrick played in every game for USF last season and has continued to make great strides as a player and person.
"On the court I've developed some trust from my teammates," he said. "As a person, I'm doing really well in school and I really like the students here. It's been a great experience overall."
Watch a home game and you'll notice that Fitzpatrick is easily a fan favorite. USF faithful erupt when he scores, kind of the way supporters backed him in his playing days at King High.
"A lot of people that supported me at King followed me over here at USF," he said. "It means a lot for me to represent my school and represent my community. It makes the people that support me proud to see I'm doing well. It makes me happy."
Basketball fans never would have been able to cheer Fitzpatrick on if he stuck with his first choice in sports. He was all about baseball growing up and didn't even give hoops a thought until he hit a growth spurt, which caught the attention of his uncle.
"At first I wasn't the best player, so it was kind of discouraging a little bit," he admitted.
Fitzpatrick went on to score more than 2,000 points for King and now gets to play much closer to home than Georgia.
"I stuck with it and with time I got better. It all worked out for the best," he said.