But Fairell was Injured on the second day of school
in August 2013, before he had even worn a Racer uniform for the first time.
The injury, a sports hernia, kept him from practicing and prevented him from
getting in shape. He ballooned to 285 pounds and when the season started he
could barely run up and down the floor.
“It was hard,” he said. “I was coming into a new system and I missed all those practices and workouts. I was thrown into the fire early and I had to pick it up fast. Once I caught on to everything it was great. And I worked hard to lose the weight. By the end of the season I was down to about 260.”
While Fairell struggled to lose weight and find his way on the court, the Racers struggled to a 2-5 start. But as the big man got healthy they started to find their way, winning 21 of their last 27 games en route to a CIT championship.
“When Coach Prohm asked us about playing in the CIT we weren't sure at first,” Fairell said. “We were so mad about not making it to the NCAA that we couldn't see the bigger picture. But after we thought about it we saw that it gave us another chance to send Dex (Dexter Fields) out as a champion.
“And it was a great experience. The fans were great. We got to send Dex out as a champion. And it gave us experience and motivation for this year.”
Unfortunately, Fairell started this year the same way he started last year. He was injured on the second day of school. And this time, the injury was a little more serious than a simple sports hernia.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said, shaking his head. “We were playing pick-up. I stole the ball and went up for a dunk. I felt a pop and I suddenly I couldn't stand up straight. I had torn something deep inside a muscle in my hip.
“I couldn't sleep at night. I would moan and scream, trying to roll over in the bed. It was terrible. When they told me what it was I asked them if they could fix it with surgery. But they said they would have to cut through all the other muscle and it would take a year for me to heal. So all I could do was just let it heal on its own. Everybody was praying for me. And I came back even though it was still hurting. I wasn't going to miss my senior year. I got up to almost 300 pounds and I couldn't really run. But I was going to play.”
Just like the year before, the Racers started slowly, losing four of their first six games and getting blown out by Xavier and Valparaiso.
“It was embarrassing,” Fairell said. “Embarrassing to the program, to the fans and the coaches for us to come out and play like that. But a lot of it was because I couldn't really play. I'm a big part of this team because of my defense and my presence. I set the tone on the defensive end.
“And I was hurting. But I played through it and we turned it around. I lost the weight. I'm down to about 255 now. And I can play without pain. That makes a big difference.”
A big difference? The Racers have won 24 straight games since starting 2-4. Over the first six games he averaged 4.3 points and 5.2 rebounds. Since then he is averaging 5.5 points and seven rebounds. But Fairell's impact on the game can't be measured statistically. When he's healthy the Racers can switch on screens because he can guard anyone on the floor.
It's amazing the way he can stay with players who are much smaller than he is. On one play against Eastern Illinois he found himself guarding the Panthers' 5-7 point guard, Cornell Johnston. Johnston couldn't go by him.
“I'm just determined not to let anyone go by me,” he said. “A lot of that comes from football though. I spent a lot of time working on my footwork when I played football. Little guys think they can go by me but I cut them off and then I cut them off again.”
With 24 straight victories and an undefeated OVC season the Racers are on a huge roll.
“To be a part of this team is very special” Fairell said. “I've never been a part of anything like this. It's like a dream. But it's actually happening. And if we keep working, especially on the defensive end, I think the sky's the limit. We can shock a lot of people.”
And when he's not on the court?
“I like dancing,” he said. Not ballroom or ballet or anything. More like R & B, rhythm dancing. And I laugh a lot. I'm kind of goofy at times.”