Neither Tanner Huffman nor Brian Fisher has ever had much use for the basketball cliché “drive to the basket.”
Not because the California High School seniors’ games are lacking.
Quite the opposite, honestly.
Mostly because they’ve never had to drive anywhere to get to a basket.
Huffman and Fisher grew up only a few hundred yards from each other on Mulberry Court and Malden Road in California, so close that they would routinely get together for driveway games of one-on-one.
That closeness – started when Huffman moved to California from Uniontown in second grade, the boys sharing a home room the following year – has never dissipated, and the two senior scorers are reaping the benefits now.
Both have eclipsed 1,000 points. Both are senior guards averaging more than 20 points per game. Both are 4.0 students. And both have led California to a 5-0 mark in Section 5-AA, 10-1 overall.
“I think because we’re so close, that helps the team a lot,” Huffman said. “If we’re so close, then the team automatically thinks, ‘OK, we should all mesh.’”
Phil Pergola has coached high school basketball for 42 years and met Huffman and Fisher when they started attending morning open gyms in the summer as fourth-graders.
Huffman has been a four-year starter for Pergola, with the exception of missing six games last year with a sprained ankle. Fisher has started the past three years.
California’s senior night is Feb. 5 against Beth-Center, and Pergola already knows someone should probably stash a box of Kleenex beneath his seat on the Trojans’ bench.
“I don’t even want to think about it. They’ve just … been with me,” Pergola said. “They’re great kids. I wish them the very best, and I know that wherever they go and whatever they do, they’re going to be successful. We’ll see what happens senior night. I know I won’t be able to keep it (together).”
If Pergola thinks the two will be successful, it’s probably because there’s a precedent here.
Huffman and Fisher have been playing competitive hoops together since they met and starred on one AAU team that went 102-4 when the boys were 12 years old. Suffice to say, the two have played quite a bit of basketball together.
“We could probably run down the court with our eyes closed, and we’d know exactly where each other are,” Fisher joked.
In four years, Pergola estimates the pair has missed about a half-dozen practices – when Huffman was injured. Off days, they ask for the keys to the weight room. They make suggestions to coaches. They pray together before games.
“We’re the two leaders on the team, and it obviously has to start with us,” Fisher said.
Huffman leads California, and the area, with an average of 23.6 points per game. Fisher ranks third behind Washington’s Josh Wise at 20.1. More of a distributor, Huffman averages 5.1 assists per game, while Fisher has used his 6-2 frame to pull down 7.8 rebounds per game.
The two have helped California average a WPIAL Class AA-best 71.9 points per game and win 10 games by an average of 29 points per contest.
But these two don’t count numbers, at least so they say.
For example, when Fisher cracked 1,000 points, he claimed to have no idea. Huffman, conversely, brushes off a question about how they make it work, this having-two-stars-on-one-team thing.
“We’ve been together so long that it doesn’t affect either one of us,” Huffman said. “We’re both 1,000-point scorers. I think that’s a great thing. But we’re not worried about that.”
What they are worried about, in typical 4.0-student fashion, are their futures.
And that doesn’t necessarily include basketball or more time together.
Fisher wants to become a physician’s assistant and may forgo college hoops to pursue a career in the medical field. Huffman appears the more likely of the two to stick with hoops and might choose to attend Washington & Jefferson College, where men’s basketball coach Glenn Gutierrez attended California University with Tanner’s dad, Ray.
“We’ve talked about colleges together,” Huffman said. “We’re helping each other out, like, ‘You’re this kind of person.’ Or, ‘You’re that kind of person.’ I know we’re probably not going to end up at the same place, but we’re helping each other with the paths that we want to take here in the next couple of months.”
In the short term, if the Trojans can continue to get production from fellow senior Evan Patterson (7.4 ppg), Austin Wingo and a few other veteran players, that path appears to be a section title and the WPIAL Class AA playoffs.
“It’s going to start with our other three role players because as good as me and Tanner can be, we’re only going to go as far as the rest of our team can help us go to,” Huffman said. “We need production out of everyone across the board to be where we want to be as far as the WPIAL playoffs.”
By the numbers
Tanner Huffman Brian Fisher
23.6 points per game 20.1
5.2 rebounds per game 7.8
5.1 assists per game 3.2
3.7 steals per game 2.7
.489 field goal % .533