The morning ride over the Ben Franklin Bridge from Jersey to Philly is usually a quiet one. When he's not taking the New Jersey Transit bus No. 409 out of Camden, Roman Catholic High senior Charron Fisher hitches a ride with teammate and neighbor Andre Sloan-El.
But the good company doesn't mean there's much chatter.
The ride home, however, adopts a more festive mood. The slow motion of early morning is gone, and the two talents from Pennsauken, N.J., are no longer tagging along with Sloan-El's dad on his commute. Instead, they hitch their return with senior forward and Jersey native Scott Mascio.
"We can get a little rowdy sometimes on that ride back," admits Fisher, 18, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound forward who averaged 22 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks per game this year for a Cahillites squad that lost to St. John Neumann in the Catholic League quarterfinals.
The daily roundtrip is, in a way, symbolic of Fisher's four-year journey. He arrived at Roman Catholic as an undersized, understated commuter student. He will leave as one of the all-time leading scorers at a school that's produced five McDonald's All-Americans.
Fisher could have been a public school star by staying home and playing at Pennsauken High (his 16-year-old sister, Porsch, is a three-sport athlete for the Indians), but he was drawn to Catholic League basketball as an eighth-grader and never looked back.
Five years ago, he was minding his own business playing AAU ball for the South Jersey Rising Stars when a Roman Catholic assistant who was coaching an opposing team suggested Fisher come see a Catholic League game sometime. The following season, Fisher watched former Roman Catholic star and NBA lottery pick Eddie Griffin dismantle Camden High during Griffin's senior season.
"Once I saw the atmosphere of a Roman Catholic game, I had to come here," says Fisher, who finished his high school career with 1,804 points, topping the 1,656 points scored by Griffin and falling just short of the school record of 1,861 points held by former University of Maryland star Reggie Jackson.
"Most of my friends and some of my cousins went to Pennsauken, so it wasn't an easy decision to come here," adds Fisher, who played sparingly as a freshman but led the Cahillites in scoring the past three seasons. "I might have become the same player I am playing in the public school league, but I don't think so. They have a lot of jump shooters over there. It's more wide open. Here, I developed a different style."
The style — that of a gritty, low-post-banging, inside finisher now complemented by a fast-developing perimeter game — is well-suited to a 235-pound guy who also played outside linebacker and wide receiver on Roman Catholic's football squad. And Fisher was good enough to receive 13 football scholarship offers, including one from Big Ten heavyweight Minnesota, where football and basketball teammate Sloan-El will play quarterback in college.
Ultimately, though, Fisher decided his future will be on the hardwood rather than the gridiron, committing to play Division I college basketball at Niagara University (N.Y.). And it's a future that appears bright despite earning the dreaded "undersized" label.
"Offensively, he reminds me of a mini (Charles) Barkley," says Roman Catholic 18th-year head basketball coach Dennis Seddon. "He's very quick off his feet underneath as a rebounder. Especially his second time up. He's usually up again before most guys come back down from their first jump. He's very tough underneath the basket. But we've allowed him to move out this year and play more of a three (small forward), and he's shown an ability to do that too."
So, what were big-time college programs like Stanford, St. Joseph's and Villanova thinking given their lukewarm pursuit of Fisher after showing initial interest? The obvious answer is the "3" that appears after "6" when listing his height.
You'd think doubters would have learned their lesson by now. Barkley, a power forward who by most accounts is barely 6-foot-5, was a perennial All-Star and one of the greatest players in NBA history despite being "undersized."
No one is saying Charron Fisher is Charles Barkley just yet. But you get the feeling Niagara is going to be very pleased. Mostly because Fisher is committed to growing as a player, if not literally.
"He understands he needs to expand his game, and he understands how," says Seddon, who's coached the Cahillites to nine Catholic League titles, most recently in 2000.
"Right now, I can rebound and score under the basket, but this year I've had an opportunity to work on playing outside more," says Fisher, who earned the Markward Club Award this season as the Catholic League Player of the Year. "I need to develop my ball-handling, my perimeter defense and my jump shot. It's going to be a busy summer."
That work ethic has two points of origin. First, the doubters who think his height is an issue. And second, his single-parent mom, Portal Rogers, who "keeps me in line and keeps me motivated." The end product is a player unafraid of the limelight and undaunted by the hours of sweat that lie ahead.
"You always gotta perform. That's why you play," says Fisher, who attended the Nike All-America Camp last summer. "You can't worry about people who see you play once and say you're overrated. Other people think you have it made because you wake up and your talent is there. It doesn't work that way. You have to work hard all the time because other people out there are trying to take my spot."
Athletic gifts and determination aside, Fisher knows he's in for a gut check at the next level. It's a test Seddon is convinced he'll pass.
"I think he can contribute right away [at Niagara]," says Seddon. "Their style of play will allow him to shoot the ball from distance, which he's comfortable doing, and to take advantage of mismatches inside."
For his part, Fisher is guardedly optimistic. Next year, he'll be on a new bridge every day, figuratively speaking. For a while, it might seem like an extended early-morning ride. But it's a ride he's ready for.
"It'll be a different level, for sure," says Fisher. "I won't be playing against guys in my age group anymore. Some of these guys are going to be 23 and 24, and that's a challenge. But I just have to keep working hard, even when things aren't going well. You gotta perform. That's what you play for."