Psychologist gives Sixers a complete picture of prospects

Joel Fish does personality assessments. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Joel Fish does personality assessments. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Posted: June 28, 2012

When the 76ers make their first selection Thursday in the NBA draft, the player they add with the 15th overall pick will have been scrutinized by coaches and scouts for hundreds of hours. They will know, for the most part, every strength and weakness of his game.

Though it knows what type of weak-side defender a player might be at the NBA level, none of the basketball brain trust will know how that player's mind works. That's why, when asked about a player's mental makeup and his personality, the response usually is about a player's "motor" or lack thereof.

That is why the Sixers have employed Joel Fish for the last 14 years. The Lower Merion native and the director of the Center for Sport Psychology in Center City is the Sixers' team psychologist. Since 1998, he has done personality assessments of every player the Sixers have worked out before the draft.

Fish's job is to make sure that a potential Sixers draft choice has the maturity and strength of character to succeed both on and off the court. His job is to assess those things that are key components to becoming a successful NBA player. Fish measures what Rod Thorn, Doug Collins, and the team's many scouts cannot.

"The NBA is not a lightbulb league," Fish said. "If you've got some gaps in your personality, it's not like a lightbulb goes on because all of a sudden you are in the NBA. In fact, in my experience, if there are some issues there with the player, under the increased stress of the NBA, those patterns can get worse."

After the Sixers worked out Illinois center Meyers Leonard on Tuesday, Fish spent about an hour with the 7-foot-1 center. He gave Leonard a standardized test designed to determine his mental toughness, competitive nature, willingness to be coached, and people skills.

The other 30 minutes of the interview included a series of situational questions to give the Sixers an idea of how the player might respond under stressful conditions on and off the court.

Fish then submits a report to the Sixers that is used as part of the player's profile.

"He plays a big role," said Tony DiLeo, the Sixers' senior vice president of basketball operations. "We have all the info that we need to know about a player from a basketball standpoint, but we can't pinpoint what's inside.

"If there are a lot of red flags that Joel has identified, yes, it will probably prevent us from taking a player," DiLeo said.

Fish maintains a database of about 200 players. This is valuable because many times when discussing trades, the Sixers want to know the makeup of a player they might trade for in the future.

The NBA is full of horror stories of players who were drafted and then encountered trouble, some of it extreme. Former Roman Catholic High star Eddie Griffin, the seventh overall pick in the 2001 draft, battled alcoholism and depression before ending his life in 2007 in a collision with a moving train; his blood-alcohol level was reported to be more than three times the legal limit in Houston, where he died at 25.

"If there is a pattern of conflict, a pattern of an unsound history, then what you build on top of it is often really shaky," Fish said. "You want a player who has a good track record in terms of being able to handle success and adversity. It's my job to make sure that the Sixers do just that."


Contact John N. Mitchell at jmitchell@philly.com. Follow @JmitchInquirer on Twitter.

Read his "Deep Sixer" blog at philly.com.

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