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Feb. 29, 2012
Anybody who followed the ACC two decades ago could tell you Todd Fuller was an outstanding player, and if given a couple of hours, the former NC State center could probably quantify the extent of his success by empirical means.
The number-crunching would be the easy part. Convincing him to cast aside his inherent humility might be the real obstacle.
While Fuller's Wolfpack squads didn't win the ACC title, his personal story was pretty compelling. He went from lightly recruited prospect to first-round NBA draftee and did it all while earning recognition as college basketball's finest scholar-athlete in his senior season of 1995-96.
"A culmination of a lot of hard work and a dream come true," the Pack's 2012 ACC Legend said. "There are thousands of players who dream of getting to that point. I was fortunate to be blessed to reach it."
Wake Forest and NC State were intrigued with the 6-foot-10 kid from Charlotte, who hadn't done the whole AAU circuit and lacked a national profile as a result. Davidson and the U.S. Naval Academy, only a few years from successfully juggling its mission and the unique size of 7-1 David Robinson, was on board, too.
Fuller liked the fact that Les Robinson, State's coach at the time, was a former high school teacher who wanted his players back on campus and in class the morning after every road game. These things get noticed, he said.
And Fuller helped with that in many ways. On the court, he worked his way from the middle of the rotation to a succession of All-ACC honors: third-team status as a sophomore, second-team acclaim as a junior and first-team selection in 1996. One of the ACC's best rebounders, he developed a quick release on intermediate shots and was tough tough to stop once he flashed to the post and got a touch on an entry pass.
Generally speaking, his career highlight was the chance to play in front of his fellow students at Reynolds Coliseum. Specifically, that included upset wins over North Carolina in consecutive seasons. The Tar Heels were ranked No. 1 in the land in one game and seventh in the other.
"Playing in Reynolds had a feeling to it that I've never seen in all my years playing professionally in different countries," Fuller said. "Our fans made it something truly special."
Meanwhile, he was on his way to graduating from State Summa Cum Laude in Applied Mathematics. Academic All-America of the Year was among his senior season's awards, and a chance at the Rhodes Scholarship was another.
"I felt like I approached basketball and academics with a similar mindset, which was to work as hard as I could and get the most out of it," he said. "I felt blessed to get those awards. Felt like I got too many, actually. I've never viewed myself as some kind of Einstein."
Fuller had to decline the Rhodes opportunity because he was being projected as a high NBA draft pick, and that came to pass when the Golden State Warriors took him 11th overall in 1996. He walked across the stage at the Meadowlands Arena across the river from Manhattan and became a part of Pack history.
"I got the full experience, including the bus driver cursing out other drivers," he said. "Unforgettable. I can remember everything from the suit I wore to the other people who were seated at my table."
Fuller played parts of five seasons in the NBA, including a playoff run with the 1999 Utah Jazz, before his game took him to three seasons in Spain, a couple in Australia, a year in Poland and a month in Greece.
"If, for some reason, they told me I had to leave the U.S. and could never return, I would live in Melbourne or Barcelona," he said.
As for the Greek league?
"There are three clubs in all of Greece that are known to pay well, to pay consistently and to pay on time," he said. "I was not on one of them."
He returned to these shores with no regrets but with a college degree and a desire to help young people. With a former professor of his at State, he created a competition in Wake County, N.C., that he hopes to spread across the state and eventually to Charlotte, where he is a math teacher at a charter school.