Daniel Miller / University of Toledo athletics
Daniel Miller / University of Toledo athletics
Tre’Shaun Fletcher always remained steadfast in his belief he owned far more skills than what he was able to showcase with the Colorado Buffaloes.
This past season, Fletcher achieved the somewhat unusual distinction of proving, amid the glut of transfers that alter the college basketball landscape every spring, that once in a while the grass really is greener elsewhere for certain players.
The former CU guard made the most of his lone season at Toledo, earning the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year honor while leading the Rockets to the cusp of an NCAA Tournament berth — which the Rockets might very well have earned if not for a devastating knee injury suffered by Fletcher in the opening minutes of the MAC semifinals.
“I was looking for a place to play where I wouldn’t be looking over my shoulder to come out if I made a mistake,” Fletcher said. “I didn’t want to set limits on myself. Unfortunately it didn’t end the way I wanted to with my knee hurt getting at the end… but I thought a breath of fresh air would be good for me. I just felt like in the (CU) coaching staff’s mind I was a certain type of player, but I knew I was a better player than they thought I was. I knew I could do more than they were allowing me to.”
Fletcher spent three seasons with the Buffs, averaging a career-best 7.1 points during his junior season of 2015-16. He appeared in two NCAA Tournament games with the Buffs — netting two points and two rebounds as a freshman when CU was routed by Pitt in the first round in 2014 before recording four points and two rebounds in the first round in 2016 against UConn in what proved to be Fletcher’s CU finale.
With Xavier Johnson set to return from an injury the following year and Derrick White also in the mix that season after sitting out a transfer year, CU coach Tad Boyle asked Fletcher to redshirt for what would have been his true senior season in 2016-17. While transferring meant Fletcher would have to sit out one season anyway, his unwavering belief his all-around skills could thrive in a smaller pond spurred his exit from Boulder.
“They say the grass is not always greener on the other side, but you don’t ever find that out unless you take a risk,” Fletcher said. “I took that risk, and it all worked out for me. I wanted to go somewhere where no one knew who I was. The main thing was the opportunity for sure.”
Oddly enough, Fletcher’s big season began with the sort of mistake he believes often led to quick hooks at CU. In the eighth game of the season Toledo led Detroit Mercy by two points late. Fletcher, mistakenly believing the Rockets led by three, took a foul in the backcourt that led to a pair of game-tying free throws. Yet Fletcher was able to make amends with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that made highlight reels across the nation.
From there, Fletcher dominated the MAC while leading the Rockets to the West Division title. Fletcher averaged 18.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 4.3 assists, becoming the only MAC player to rank among the league’s top five in all three categories. In three seasons at CU Fletcher never compiled more assists than turnovers. In his lone season at Toledo he posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.80.
In addition to the MAC Player of the Year honor, Fletcher also was an honorable mention AP All-American selection. It was a bittersweet ending, however, as Toledo lost the MAC title game by 10 points to Buffalo (which went on to upset Fletcher’s former league foe, Arizona, in the first round) with Fletcher forced to watch due to a torn ACL. While his former classmate, CU’s George King, has turned in big performances at showcases Fletcher also was invited to — the NABC all-star game and the Portsmouth Invitational — Fletcher is being forced to wait a year to embark on his professional career while he rehabilitates from his injury.
The bittersweet end aside, Fletcher emerged as a player and leader at Toledo in a manner that probably wouldn’t have unfolded similarly had he remained at CU.
“To say I thought he’d be the player of the year I guess would be a little far-fetched, but I knew how talented he was,” Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “I knew he was a very, very good basketball player. Didn’t quite know we’d get all the intangibles, like the leadership and the toughness aspect. He brought so many different intangibles to our team.
“Tad is a guy I have great respect for, and he had great things to say about Tre. We did our homework and we had a pretty good idea he was a really talented player and a pretty good idea he’s a really good person. To be as good as he was, obviously it worked out.”