Before University of Toledo senior Tre’Shaun Fletcher became a bona fide Mid-American Conference player of the year candidate, he took a huge gamble on himself — a leap of faith that he was capable of more on the basketball court.
Fletcher completed three years at the University of Colorado, where he was productive in limited playing time but felt he could thrive in an expanded role given the opportunity. He took a calculated risk coming to Toledo, where he would have to sit out a full year before having just one season of eligibility.
“It’s given me a chance to just play and play the game I love,” Fletcher said. “It’s allowed me to play the game I’m good at without looking over my shoulder.
“A three-year transfer to sit one [season] to play one, that’s pretty much unheard of. For me to have the year that I’m having this year and our team to have the success that we are having this year, it’s ridiculous. It’s all paying off.”
It’s hard to imagine that risk paying off any more than it has for Toledo and Fletcher. Fresh off a 20-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist performance for the second triple-double in school history, Fletcher is rewriting the record books and having one of the best senior seasons in program history.
Entering Friday’s senior night matchup against Eastern Michigan, Toledo already has clinched the outright Mid-American Conference West Division title and the No. 2 seed in the upcoming MAC tournament.
Fletcher’s versatility is something that is rare to see at any level of college basketball. His statistics jump off the page, as he is in the top five in the MAC in scoring, rebounding, and assists, something that seems far-fetched for any player, let alone a player adjusting to his first season of playing with a team.
Fletcher is second in the conference in scoring at 19.0 points per game, fourth in rebounding at 8.3, and third in assists at 4.4. The statistical profile Fletcher is creating at Toledo is one of the most unique in program history.
At 6 feet, 7 inches, Fletcher is a guard who has range to the 3-point line, excels in the midrange game and in pick-and-roll situations, rebounds over bigger and stronger players, and creates opportunities for his teammates like a point guard.
“It’s been the perfect fit for him, and it’s also been the perfect fit for us,” UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “Selfishly, it has been the perfect fit for me, too. Having a guy like that is certainly what we have been looking for with the type of person that he is, and the type of leader that he is, and the competitive spirit he has.”
While the statistics stand out, Fletcher’s leadership qualities have grown throughout his career to the point where his teammates look up to him and follow his example.
“That’s what makes him so special, is that he gives guys energy, and gives guys confidence, and gives guys belief,” Kowalczyk said. “That’s the difference with him. I think his leadership surprised even him a little bit. I think we knew what was inside him. We had some people talk to him and try to get that out of him.
“Now he is such a confident player that his intangibles have become very contagious and infectious for our team and our program.”
Fletcher grew up in Wilmar, Ark., a town of about 500 people Fletcher described as a poverty-stricken environment.
He and his family, with the urging of his mother, Bobby Ann, made the decision to move to Washington state when Fletcher was in eighth grade.
Fletcher’s older brother, Royal, a talented basketball player, enrolled at Lincoln High School in Tacoma as a senior after the move. During his first AAU tournament as an eighth-grader in Washington, Tre’Shaun immediately caught the attention of Lincoln head coach Aubrey Shelton and assistant Brason Alexander.
“We watched him and after a quarter, I turned to coach Shelton and I said, ‘He’s going to start from Day 1, and he’ll be one of the best players we’ve ever had,’” Alexander said.
Fletcher ended up proving Alexander right, as he became the all-time leading scorer at Lincoln by the time his prep career was done.
But Fletcher struggled at times when the coaches moved him to point guard. He now admits that decision by the coaching staff led to the versatility he possesses now.
“I remember they first put me at point guard my sophomore year, and it was bad,” Fletcher said. “I was hitting the wall on my passes and dribbling off my foot. But my coaches told me if I played the 1, all the other positions would be easier to learn. I was probably 6-foot-5 in high school, and they told me I was not going to be a post player at the next level.
“They told me I need to get comfortable dribbling the ball. I sucked at first, but you have to start somewhere. I’m glad they did that because it is really paying off for me right now.”
Shelton said as Fletcher grew, he began to develop his leadership qualities.
“He just always plays with passion and energy,” Shelton said. “The leadership you see at Toledo with him talking to his team, that didn’t come right away. It took him years to build that, but the passion and enthusiasm was always there.”
Adjusting to college basketball
As a freshman at Colorado, Fletcher played in 20 games before suffering a knee injury that kept him out until the Pac-12 tournament. By his sophomore season, Fletcher earned 17 starts and averaged 5.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.0 assists per game.
His junior year, he started 14 games and averaged 7.1 points and 2.4 rebounds.
Ultimately, the limited role and the variability in his playing time led Fletcher to think he could excel in the right role elsewhere.
“It was me just wanting to play,” Fletcher said of the move to Toledo. “At Colorado, sometimes I started, and sometimes I came off the bench. I would play 10 minutes one game and 25 minutes the next game. I just wanted to be out on the floor and play without having to look over my shoulder.
“Nothing against the coaches at Colorado because I respect them dearly, but they didn’t see the same vision that I saw for myself. The more I think about it, the more I think it was meant for me to go through those three years to learn from the players I played with and see what it takes to win. Coming to Toledo, I could show that to the guys here.”
Playing for her
As Fletcher made the transition to Toledo, he also became the father of a baby girl Malina, who turned 1 in December.
When Fletcher was honored for scoring 1,000 career points before the Central Michigan game Feb. 23, he held Malina in his arms so he could soak up the moment with her.
“She’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” Fletcher said. “Coming here to Toledo from Colorado, I already knew she was on the way. It was even more motivation to get better and stay consistent with my work ethic. I embrace everything with her, even the little things like her trying to walk up the stairs or putting clothes away. I enjoy those moments.”
Alexander thinks Fletcher will make an excellent father and role model for Malina.
“He’s going to be the best dad around,” Alexander said. “When you have a kid and you see how important they are, you really change your life. He’s playing for her.”
Fletcher said his father never was really in the picture, so he wants to always be there for Malina.
“Whatever I do with her, I’m doing what I would have wanted my father to have done with me,” he said. “She’s the biggest part of my life, and I really live and play for her. It’s ridiculous how much I love that little girl.”
One goal left
Fletcher admits his basketball career has been a wild ride. But with this season and his brief time with the Rockets coming to a close, he believes this team can translate its regular season success into a postseason run.
“We just have to continue to play our game,” Fletcher said. “We have to win three games [in the MAC tournament to advance to the NCAA tournament], so we just have to stay grounded and ready to be firing on all cylinders. After Friday, we have literally one game left in our season that is guaranteed.
“To put that into perspective, for me to have possibly two games left in my college career, that’s crazy. I’m going to do everything in my power to try to extend that. I feel like we are going to make a run at this thing.”
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.