When Maricopa High School hired Tony Fuller as head basketball coach, district officials knew they were getting a seasoned coach, college star and former NBA player to lead the team. They may be getting much more.
Fuller has a storied college and professional career, having played at Pepperdine University and for the Detroit Pistons. Now, at age 57, he is starting to see how important it is his team is not only winning games but his players are prepared for what awaits them after graduation.
“He talks to us every day about life and teaches us real-world stuff,” junior Josh Johnson said.
Junior El Jones also recognizes the active role their new coach is playing as a mentor and appreciates that Fuller is putting such an emphasis on things larger than the sport itself.
“He really tries to prepare us for life after basketball. He focuses on education and things like that,” Jones said. “He wants you to go to college for education first, and then basketball second.”
Having been a starter in the education game for so long, Fuller knows what it means for students who don’t take school seriously. He knows for so many underprivileged young people the best path to a successful future begins with a proper education.
“As a black educator I’m deeply concerned with the black youth of today,” Fuller said. “When you look at the statistics it doesn’t paint a very good picture. It saddens me sometimes to see what I perceive to be a future that isn’t very bright.”
Like any coach, Fuller wants a winning team. But by using his position as an educator and coach, he wants to equip all his students and players with the skills necessary to become productive members of society.
“Hopefully I can do my little part not only with the black students but all the students to maybe guide them on a path that leads to a better outcome,” Fuller said.
Fuller was hired last spring after the resignation of Jake Neill. After 10 years coaching for Brophy College Prep he was let go in 2015 but stayed on staff to teach. When he heard about the need for a basketball coach at MHS he applied for the position. Out of a pool of 40 other applicants Fuller was offered the position.
“I wanted to get back into coaching on a high school level, and I wanted to stay in the Phoenix area,” Fuller said. “[Maricopa] seemed like a nice place, and it seemed like a good school.”
The transition from private to public institution hasn’t been easy.
“So far it’s been a learning experience for me. I feel like a 60-year-old rookie,” Fuller said. “I taught at a private school for 10 years, and the difference between the private and the public is night and day. There are a lot more checks and balances at the school, a lot more meetings, a lot more paperwork.”
Fuller is embracing the change, though, and is constantly looking to the future. His dreams are not only to coach the team to victory, but to create a place where his players can become role models for other students and the city as a whole.
“My hope is that we can develop these young people into productive gentlemen, students and basketball players,” Fuller said. “My hope is that our program can be something that the community can look at with a sense of pride.”
Dec. 1 H Queen Creek 7 p.m.
Dec. 2 @ Campo Verde 7 p.m.
Dec. 6 @ Poston Butte 7 p.m.
Dec. 9 @ Mtn. View (Marana) 7 p.m.
Dec. 13 @ Willow Canyon 7 p.m.
Dec. 15 H Casa Grande 7 p.m.
Dec. 16 @ Ironwood 7 p.m.
Dec. 29-30 Coolidge Tournament TBA
This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.