Marcus Fizer’s road to Iowa State has been well documented.
Coach Tim Floyd’s personal relationship with the family helped Iowa State land its most heralded recruit and set the wheels in motion for great things to come. The first and only McDonald’s All-American to sign with Iowa State, Fizer arrived on campus in 1997 with high expectations. Gone were five seniors from the previous season, which had just come off a Sweet 16 run in the NCAA tournament. With new faces, it was apparent that Fizer was the centerpiece Iowa State was building around. With that kind of hype coming in, many freshmen could buckle under the pressure.
“I felt extremely honored to be able to come to such a great university as Iowa State and hopefully start a tradition," says Fizer, now 36. "I didn’t want to go to a bigger-name college, even though they were recruiting me. I wanted to go somewhere to start my own tradition and make the magic happen there.”
A team of fresh talent, and young bodies, the 1997-98 Cyclones finished the season 12-18 and 11th in the Big 12. Despite the losing season, it was obvious people were taking notice of Fizer’s talent on the court. He was named Big 12 Rookie of the Year after averaging 14.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
During the off-season, rumors of Floyd leaving to join the NBA’s Chicago Bulls began. Suddenly, the man who was responsible for bringing Fizer to Ames was gone. And Iowa State was left wondering what he would do.
“Transferring never entered my mind at all,” Fizer said. “I made a commitment to Iowa State and was committed to building something special as a Cyclone. I understood, because at the time he was moving on to what was his dream job. I looked at it the same way as if a player was to leave early to enter the Draft. I was hurt, and had a lot of emotions, because he brought me up to Iowa State and I wanted to play for him.”
It wasn’t long before ISU athletics director Gene Smith hired Floyd’s good friend and former assistant, Larry Eustachy, to take over the reins of the program. With the help from Stevie Johnson and junior college guard Mike Nurse, the pieces were starting to be put into place for a successful season.
Injuries late in the season caused the Cyclones to wilt to a 15-15 record. During that season, Fizer continued to gain notoriety within the league. He was the first ISU player to lead the league in scoring since Jeff Grayer in 1988, averaging 18 points per game.
“That year was a transition period, because we were buying into the things we were being taught,” Fizer said. “To have Coach Eustachy come in and be a carbon copy of Coach Floyd, there wasn’t much drop off in any in coaching philosophy. Everything we’d been taught by Coach Floyd the year before, Coach Eustachy intensified it even more. It was like a shock and awe situation, but once we all bought into what he wanted us to do we started winning some games and had a lot of fun. He brought in hard work, hard practices and very hard training but we knew that the reward was much greater."
No one outside of Ames was giving Iowa State much of a chance heading into the 1999-2000 season as most preseason polls had the Cyclones picked toward the bottom of the conference. However, with an opening victory against Simon Fraser on Nov. 15, it was apparent the year would be different.
The previous season’s point guard, Nurse, was moved to his more natural position at shooting guard. That allowed JUCO transfer Jamaal Tinsley to step in at the point. Things would never be the same.
The Cyclones defeated Iowa 79-66, and went on to a 12-2 non-conference record. Things got much more difficult in conference play, but Iowa State was still able to beat perennial top-20 powerhouse Kansas twice including a victory in Lawrence, Kan., where Fizer hit a last-second fadeaway on the baseline to secure the victory – Iowa State’s first in Lawrence since 1982.
Iowa State went on to finish 14-2 in during league play, during which Fizer had a streak of five 30-point games in a string of six games, including pouring in 35 points to help beat No. 17 Texas, and 29 points in a victory over No. 10 Oklahoma State to give the Cyclones the regular season Big 12 Championship crown. The Cyclones added another trophy by winning the Big 12 Tournament title, as well. Fizer was named Big 12 Conference Player of the Year, held the scoring title for the second straight year, as well as being named MVP of the Big 12 Tournament.
“The Big 12 was and continues to be extremely tough,” Fizer said. “I still tell people all the time that if you come out of the Big 12, you’ve accomplished something special. I know that the Big East gets all the publication, but the Big 12 is one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with, and that includes the NBA.”
Excitement was at an all-time high around Ames as the Cyclones entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region. Fizer was named first team Associated Press All-American — Iowa State’s first — and he made the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Two early victories over Central Connecticut State and Auburn and the stage was set to play national power UCLA in the Midwest Regional semifinal at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich. In front of thousands of Cyclone fans, Iowa State defeated the Bruins 80-56. It was their last win of the year. The next opponent, Michigan State, was too mighty down the stretch, pulling away for a 75-64 win.
“We all thought we were going to win the national championship,” Fizer said. “I can remember losing the game, and getting back to Ames just sitting on my couch for the next couple of days. I couldn’t move or do anything. I had photos cut out of the championship trophy before the season started, and all I could think about for so long was how great it would feel to hold that trophy after winning the national championship. Things didn’t go the way we all planned and I remember being devastated. There is no question that if we would have won that game against Michigan State, we would have been there at the end."
A junior, Fizer was faced with the difficult decision to stay for his senior season or make the jump to the NBA.
“I tell people all the time that college basketball was the most fun playing the game of basketball I’d ever had,” Fizer said. “Once you become pro it becomes extremely political, all about the numbers and many things outside of the game itself. It wasn’t until after the season was over that my parents called me and told me that their house — the house I grew up in — had burned down a couple months before. They had been living in a hotel in my hometown and never told me. There was an electrical fire with some wiring and the house was destroyed. They wanted me to focus on basketball and our season. Once they told me that I felt like I had to go to the NBA and made my decision that much faster. But I definitely would have come back for my senior year had that not have happened. Those guys went on to have a great season and I wish I could have been a part of that.”
The Chicago Bulls selected Fizer fourth in the 2000 NBA Draft, reuniting the player with his former coach, Tim Floyd.
“It was an extreme honor being drafted by the Bulls,” Fizer said, “but we never saw that coming. We thought I would be headed to the Clippers at No. 3 or to Orlando at the fifth spot. We didn’t feel like the Bulls would draft me because they’d already had Elton Brand there. Nevertheless, to be in that green room, getting a chance to be in that opportunity and see everything that I’d worked so hard for pay off was an extreme honor.”
Fizer went on to play for the Bulls for the next four years, averaging 12.3 points per game before tearing his ACL in January 2003.
Afterward, he bounced around to play with the Bobcats, Bucks, Supersonics and Hornets. He was named league NBA D-League MVP for the 2005-06 season before heading across the world to play for numbers national teams, but injuries plagued his pro career.
“It is extremely difficult,” Fizer said. “ I realize now that a lot of things which have happened during my career have been due to my own negligence. I was in the league at the age of 21, within a big city like Chicago. Being drafted by Chicago was difficult because we were young. Fred [Hoiberg] was our oldest player on the roster and he was still in his mid-20s. I did a lot of things that I wasn’t supposed to do – just hanging out and running the street. Not focusing on my career. I feel like I had the talent, and I had the athleticism but I was relying solely on that. I regret everything within my soul and my being not listening to guys like Charles Oakley, Corey Blount, Scottie Pippen, and Greg Anthony. Guys like that. I’m at the age I am now that they were when I was in my early 20s. I used to laugh at guys like Jalen Rose having to have ice on his knees. Looking at guys like Patrick Ewing having to have ice on shoulders, his hips and his knees. I didn’t appreciate what I had and would go straight from practice to the streets and be out all day and all night. I took those things for granted and it caught up to me extremely fast. I’m  years old now, and to work my way back has been a lot harder.”
Fizer has two sons now, ages 16 and 10, who are active in sports. His eldest plays AAU ball and recently received mail from North Carolina. Fizer moved his family to Las Vegas, where continues to train in hopes of a basketball comeback and where he's carved out a few new career roles. A born-again Christian, he's a traveling minister and, along with wife Moneek, is working to get a Christian networking site off the ground — which he hopes will combat "negative aspects" of Facebook and Twitter.
A few of Fizer's entrepreneurial pursuits include a Christian clothing line and perhaps a line of children's toys.
“I’m venturing into something completely different than what I was studying at Iowa State," Fizer said. "So I’d like to learn more about that. Then again my career is not over. It’s not even close to being over. I’d like to continue until I’m 38-39. I tell people all the time that Kobe [Bryant] are actually the same age. [The] same with Dirk Nowitzki. If those guys can still compete at the highest level, I know God and all his greatness will help me find my way back.”
Through it all, it remains clear the game — and particularly his time at Iowa State — continues to follow Fizer.
“I miss how powerful basketball was up [in Ames],” Fizer said. “We had some great players. College basketball was so much fun. Nobody had any egos; we just went out and worked hard. All the blood, sweat, tears and weightlifting we did had to come from your heart. College basketball was so much fun because we knew it was about a bigger picture than just us playing the game. We were representing a university, a community, a state."
Because of a production error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated the name of Fizer's wife.