Eagles boys basketball coach Olan Fulfer surveys the court as his team practices. These aren’t normal practices. The air crackles with electricity as the squad runs though its drills with the intensity of a state playoff game.
Fulfer has 20 players on the squad, and they look like they all want to be there.
“I’ve got a ton of gym rats here, which is huge,” Fulfer said before having the boys start another drill. “A lot of these kids love basketball. I have seven freshmen, and they’re all gym rats.”
The squad has four seniors. They lost three from last year. One was a part-timer, but Caevan Murray was a monster post that the team will miss.
“We had a go-to player in Caevan,” Fulfer said. “I’m taking that away completely. I don’t want any star power or people thinking they have to shoot every time or thinking we have to feed certain players.”
He noted that if teams keyed in on Murray, the offense suffered because the post was an integral part of the plan.
Fulfer said the team is smaller this year and more guard-orientated but also more athletic. He wants a full offense that concentrates on passing to any player in a position to score.
“I want us to be more well-rounded,” Fulfer said, adding with a laugh, “of course every coach dreams that. We’re focusing more on passing, and passing up good shots for great shots. It’s keeping me up nights.”
The coach doesn’t want players to shoot past two defenders, He wants players to concentrate on the open shot every single time.
“Great teams do that,” he said. “It’s hard to stop those kinds of teams.”
Fulfer is trying a new offense, something he spent hours studying.
Seniority means nothing to Fulfer. Last year’s “Coach of the Year” award winner is about attitude and results. Through districts and state playoffs he started two freshmen, Chase Murray and Mason Ferre who more than pulled their weight. This is a different year, however.
“With my lineup, anything can change,” Fulfer said. “It can take a bad attitude in a practice, one person missing a practice, a blowup in a game and that lineup can be completely switched.”
Fulfer wants his players to have fun, but he also wants them focused.
He immediately named four freshmen who show enough promise to break into the lineup.
“They’ve been impressive in practice, and I might be dressing down 14 varsity players because I don’t know who to dress because they all try so hard,” Fulfer said.
The coach chose a deliberately tough preseason schedule to get his players adjusted for league play. The Eagles will face several top-10 teams and even a 3A team, Umatilla.
Chemistry is the team’s greatest asset, Fulfer said. He noted that past years included problem players that created discord and strife that destroyed the team’s cohesiveness. Players now hang out together in and out of practice and school.
“They’re a family,” Fulfer said. “It’s not a cliché thing, and I really want them to do that.”
Toward the end of the interview Fulfer has the team working on fundamental skills such as ball handling and dribbling. At the same time, he is well aware of his own duties as a coach.
“I’m not perfect,” he said. “I’m reading and watching videos and trying to get better. I’ll always adjust to my players.”