Opportunities, hard work brought Missouri men's basketball's Tim Fuller to Columbia

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST
Tim Fuller, Missouri men's basketball assistant coach, yells during the game against Vanderbilt on Jan. 26.

COLUMBIA — The nickname "Prime-time" sounds right for someone like Tim Fuller, the Missouri men's basketball team's associate head coach.

Fuller helped develop one of the best point guards in the NBA. Fuller helped bring in every player since head coach Frank Haith arrived, except for forwards Tony Criswell and Ryan Rosburg.

Fuller was ranked No. 3 last year in ESPN's top 10 assistant coaches age 40 years and under and is Haith's trusted recruiter.

However, Fuller says he does not think "Prime-time" fits. He says he is just a hard-working man that has had all the right opportunities.

He downplays the name as he walks onto Norm Stewart Court in workout clothes before basketball practice.

"Me, Prime-time?" Fuller asks as he smiles a little bit.

Fuller looks at his phone and scrolls a bit. He looks back up.

"I'm just an ordinary man," Fuller says.

The next afternoon, Fuller had just finished a long meeting with Haith. He walks into the copier room, where the team prints documents full of the names of players he helped recruit.

Fuller sits on top of a stack of white cardboard boxes, shunning a spot in the only chair in the room. Fuller starts to reflect about his career.

Fuller started coaching after graduating Wake Forest in 2000. He worked as a volunteer assistant coach at North Carolina A&T, but it was Fuller's next stop that changed his life.

Fuller arrived at West Forsyth High School, located in a suburb of Winston-Salem, N.C., in 2001 as a "permanent substitute teacher," for psychology and world and US history. That spring, Fuller was asked to coach West Forsyth's junior varsity basketball team.

There he was introduced to a sophomore point guard named Chris Paul, who is now an elite point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA.

Fuller remembers being inspired by Paul's work ethic. The harder Fuller saw Paul work, the more basketball knowledge Fuller wanted to feed him.

Fuller spent hours with Paul in the gym preparing him for varsity, working on everything from ball handling to competitiveness. There was no system, no blueprint for Fuller to follow to develop Paul into a professional.

"I just went into the gym with him every single day and we put in work," Fuller said.

Fuller and Paul analyzed tapes of legendary NBA point guard Isaiah Thomas. They studied college basketball games together. Fuller invited some of his former teammates from Wake Forest to play with Paul to nourish Paul's basketball abilities.

Charles Paul, Chris Paul's father, said Fuller's guidance helped Chris Paul.

"Always stay true to who you are," Charles Paul said about the biggest lesson Fuller taught Chris Paul. "When he was in high school, when he was in college, when he went to the pros, when he went to New Orleans and where he's at now in L.A., he's no different."

The next year Chris Paul was on the varsity squad, starting his journey to the NBA, and Fuller left West Forsyth to be an assistant coach at Elon in 2002.

Fuller's tenacity is the reason why Haith thinks Fuller is successful. Haith remembers coaching at Wake Forest when Fuller was a player, impressed by the walk-on's passion in practice.

"Well, Timmy is a great recruiter, a great communicator and he's a hard, hard worker," Haith said. "He's very detail oriented."

Fuller remembers the work he put in to help put together this year's Missouri squad. Fuller remembers being away from his family, at one point 13 of 16 days during his recruiting trip last fall, stopping at home only to change clothes.

Fuller's road to Missouri is something Fuller said he had little control over.

He talks about how being around Chris Paul helped earn him a top position at Nike as a marketing representative that Fuller says has a five-year wait list to be considered.

He brings up how he went back to coaching in 2010.

Fuller was waiting in his hotel room to go to breakfast with Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. Fuller's phone rang. It was Louisville coach Rick Pitino calling to offer Fuller an assistant coaching job.

"How did he even know who I am?" Fuller said.

Fuller said he is not afraid to hide his faith. A bible passage is scrawled in big green letters on the board in his office above the names and pictures of the numerous recruits from around the country he is pursuing.

Fuller said he is grateful for the nickname, but he wants to make something clear.

"Today I talked about the things that got my job done," Fuller said. "And those aren’t things that I didn’t acquire on my own. There’s a certain level of God-given gifts that lay within me. The situations that I’ve been in throughout life have helped me recognize those God-given gifts."

"It's not about Tim, it's a prime-time God that has inspired me to do what I do."

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