It was his first day as a University of Dayton student — he’d literally been on campus only a couple of hours — when he got an out-of-the-blue taste of what the next four years would be like.
“My parents took me and Paul and CJ to the Walmart right down the road to get some snacks and stuff for our first day,” Luke Fabrizius said of that food run he’d made with fellow freshmen basketball players Paul Williams and Chris Johnson.
“We’re brand new. We don’t have any Dayton stuff on, just our normal clothes, but as we’re walking in this man comes up and points to each one of us, saying, ‘You’re Luke Fabrizius. You’re Paul Williams. You’re Chris Johnson. I hope you guys have a great year.’
“We heard that and we were like ‘Wow!’
“We’ve barely been on campus and already they know who we are. These people really follow Dayton basketball.’ ”
For Fabrizius especially, it only has gotten more intense after that.
Today, as the Dayton Flyers close out their regular season with a noon game against George Washington at UD Arena, the team’s four seniors and this year’s captains — Fabrizius, Williams, Johnson and Josh Parker, who transferred in from Drake — will be honored at center court with their families.
The Dayton crowd, as it does every year on Senior Day, will embrace the quartet warmly. But none of the other three will elicit quite the response that Fabrizius does:
For four years that heartfelt cry has filled UD Arena every time the lean, 6-foot-9 forward from suburban Chicago has hit a 3-point shot seemingly launched from another area code.
He’s UD’s most accurate 3-point shooter this season, hitting 40.9 percent (36-of-88). Over the years, even as his seasons have been hampered by injuries, he has brought the crowd to life time after time with his long-range prowess.
Last Saturday, he came off the bench against UMass and hit three quick treys to set the tone for the rout. Two seasons ago, he buried five of nine 3-pointers in a near-upset of No. 5 Villanova. Freshman year, he made five consecutive 3s in the first half against Duquesne.
“He’s a unique kid,” UD coach Archie Miller said with a grin as he discussed Fabrizius’s no-fear approach. “No matter what, that shooting hand is always ready.”
When Miller talks about Fabrizius you can tell he really likes him.
“That ‘Luuuuke!’ chant is one of the crowd’s favorites, but more important than just the shooting, people identify with him,” Miller said. “He’s what this university, this community is about.
“If you’re gonna put a picture up of somebody who does it the right way, it’s going to be Luke. He’s a golden character. You rarely find a guy who does as much for a team, a program and a school in terms of representing it the right way.
“From an academic standpoint, he’s terrific. Off the floor he’s terrific and from a leadership standpoint in the locker room, he’s just always about the right things.”
Brian Gregory, Miller’s predecessor, felt the same way about Fabrizius, who he had recruited from the same high school for which he had played — Hersey High in Arlington Heights, Ill.
“I was really, really close to BG,” Fabrizius said. “He’s someone I’ll stay in contact with the rest of my life because he did so much for me. He gave me a chance to play college basketball and he made sure I did it the right way.
“He’d tell me, ‘You know what to do, you know the right way, show other people what you’re doing and it will rub off. That will take you and your team a long way.’ ”
Although he nor any of the other players will talk about it, I know that more than almost anyone on the team, Fabrizius stood up to a teammate or two last season who was doing things to tear apart team chemistry — often at the expense of another player.
It’s not that Fabrizius is any kind of team enforcer or some kind of tough guy, but you do see an inner stretch, a sense of conviction, in much of what he does.
A lot of it comes from his folks, Chuck and Julie Fabrizius, who are regulars at Flyers games home and away.
His dad taught him his early basketball and along with an AAU coach, Mark Russo, helped him develop his shot. As for his mom, he said she instilled an empathy for others. And she also showed him some grit.
When he and his brother Brian — who happens to be a 6-foot-11 freshman playing for Princeton — were younger, Julie Fabrizius battled breast cancer.
“Even when she went through chemo and wasn’t feeling good and was wearing a wig or hat because she’d lost her hair, she came to our games,” he said. “She stayed so strong through all of it. She supported us and wouldn’t miss a game. That’s who she is. She loved us that much.
“My brother and I are the luckiest people in the world to have the parents we do.”
And while he said his mom “couldn’t be better now, she’s just doing awesome,” she hasn’t lost that backbone either.
This season when the Flyers were playing at Fordham, an especially vocal Rams fan was riding Fabrizius hard when she turned, looked him in the eyes and informed him that was her son.
The loudmouth knew he was in over his head, stumbled over a mea culpa or two and melted back into the crowd.
The fan response has been quite a bit different at UD Arena.
“Dayton basketball is the show in this town and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world,” Fabrizius said.
“This whole experience — all the good times and the tough ones, too — has really helped shape me.”
Freshman year, he was part of the NCAA tournament team. Sophomore year, the Flyers won the NIT. And though last season was a disappointment, this year the 18-11 Flyers have had some stellar moments.
“One thing about this season, everybody’s got each other’s back,” Fabrizius said. “We don’t have to worry about a guy that’s not bought in. That’s what Archie talked about when he came in here — that we’d be ‘all in.’ And I think to a man, every single guy from our best player, CJ, down to the walk-on players, everyone has bought in and is not worried about themselves.
“I think we’ve shown that on the court. We’ve played hard and shown some toughness and character. That’s not saying we haven’t been inconsistent, but we’ve always risen up after a bad loss and I think we’ll do it again.
“This season and the way we came together as a team, that’s another memory I’m always going to have. There are a lot of them. I wouldn’t trade all this for anything.”
So going back to his first day at UD, he’s answered the Walmart guy who said “I hope you have a good year.”
He did. He had four of them.