Latrobe connection of Biss, Fite pays off for Shippensburg men’s basketball
When Chris Fite became coach of the Shippensburg men’s basketball team, he immediately identified a few traits he wanted to see in recruits.
Fite and his staff sought unselfish players willing to dig in on defense and spend extra time in the gym.
Finding team-first players helped Fite turn Shippensburg from a seven-win program he inherited in 2013 to one that reached the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region final last season. Jake Biss, then a freshman point guard who picked Shippensburg over five other schools, played a key role in the postseason run as a backup.
“Jake exemplifies what we look for to a T,” Fite said.
Just consider it an added bonus that Biss and Fite are Latrobe graduates.
“Sure, us both being from Latrobe played a factor in him being here, but I could be from Texas and I’d still want him to play for me,” Fite, a 1988 Latrobe grad, said. “His game is a perfect fit for us.”
Biss is no longer a backup. The sophomore averages 37 minutes for Shippensburg, which is 14-4 and 8-2 in the Eastern Division of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference despite losing more than 4,000 career points to graduation. As part of some high-scoring, big-game-winning teams at Latrobe, Biss earned attention with his well-rounded game. He’s tasked with similar duties for Shippensburg.
“I compare what I do with my senior year at high school. It’s not much of a change except for the competition,” Biss said. “Being the starting point guard, a lot of that means having more of a leadership role and knowing every play for every position.”
Biss has started all 18 games for the Raiders, who return from a weeklong break Wednesday at home against Mansfield, and, like he did at Latrobe, he’s doing a bit of everything. Biss averages 13 points, 4.8 assists and 3.3 rebounds. He’s scored in double figures 16 times, and he’s made 33 of 81 (40.7 percent) from 3-point range.
Latrobe’s all-time assists leader — Fite said Biss’ Latrobe team would beat his group — is being asked to do something he didn’t have to with the Wildcats: be more aggressive on offense.
It paid off during a 76-70 win Jan. 5 against East Stroudsburg when Biss scored a career-high 30 points with five assists. In the same week, he had a career-high eight assists against Mercyhurst and his 52 points and 16 assists over a three-game span earned Biss PSAC Eastern Division Basketball Athlete of the Week honors.
“That was a fun game, probably the most exciting game I’ve played in,” Biss said of playing East Stroudsburg. “I definitely didn’t see that coming. My teammates and coaches definitely helped. Every timeout, they just told me to keep shooting.”
With Biss in the lineup, Shippensburg hopes to keep winning, something the Raiders have done with regularity under Fite, who has a 102-62 record at the school with an 86-25 mark the past three-plus seasons.
The Raiders went 25-8 last season and defeated perennial Division II power West Liberty in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. This season, outside expectations aren’t as high for Shippensburg, but the Raiders are in first place in the PSAC East, a half-game ahead of West Chester and East Stroudsburg.
“Most people on the outside look at the scoring, leadership and firepower we lost and think we might take a step back,” said Fite, the only coach in program history with multiple 20-win seasons (he has three).
“As a coach, you’re never quite sure how that’s going to be handled. But we have a lot of guys like Jake who are all about the team, willing to do anything and are coachable. Jake works his butt off. I loved watching him in high school. I was impressed with all the things he did, and I love coaching him now.”
Mike Kovak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mike at email@example.com or via Twitter @MKovak_Trib.