Basketball is embedded in Joey Fuca’s DNA.
For the last decade-plus, the game has taken Fuca to many different corners of the basketball world. He got his first taste of what it could offer as a prep star at San Ramon Valley in Danville where he won a North Coast Section championship with the Wolves in 2005. He went on to play four years at The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, an NAIA program and then headed overseas to pursue a professional career, which he did so with moderate success in Germany for two seasons.
After his professional stint, he returned to the states and served as a graduate assistant on Eric Musselman’s staff at the University of Nevada-Reno for a season before coming back to California to take over his father’s AAU program, the San Francisco-based Lakeshow team.
Now, basketball has brought Fuca, 30, to Napa where he’s taken over as head coach of Prolific Prep after Billy McKnight, who had been with the program since its inception in 2014 and served as the head coach since 2015, left the program to take another job over the summer.
Under McKnight, The Crew went from being a relatively unknown program on the rise to a national powerhouse, and Fuca will look to build on that success. He joins Prolific as it begins arguably its most anticipated season yet, with arguably the best team its ever fielded.
Fuca will lead a team headlined by five-star prospects Jalen Green and Nimari Burnett, both ranked as top 25 players in the country. Behind them, an ensemble of other highly-rated players and prospects, almost all of whom are likely to be Division I college players, will round out a team that has lofty aspirations.
“As a first-year head coach, to be thrown onto a team with this much star power, our goal from day one is to win a Geico National Championship,” Fuca told The Register back in August. “Anything short of that, I think, would be a disappointment.”
Before joining the program in August, Fuca had been holding offseason training sessions with Burnett over the past year-plus and got to know more about the program through those workouts. He also knew Prolific Prep founders Jeremy Russotti and Philippe Doherty from his time in the local AAU circuits, where Russotti first caught a glimpse of what the up-and-coming coach was capable of on the sidelines.
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“I knew he was young, I knew he was training some of our guys, which I loved because he’s a great trainer, and when I watched him coach it reminded me a lot of how Philippe coaches and how I coach, and I knew he was the right guy,” Russotti said at Prolific Prep’s media day on Oct. 28. “The discipline he brings, the energy, the expectation he has of these kids, I knew that with the group we had we needed that kind of coach. When Billy moved on to his new job, I had to nab him as quick as I could.”
Fuca’s bring with him an extensive and diverse background in the game that he aims to implement with The Crew. He’s picked up bits and pieces from all of his stops, including his two years as a standout in lower-level German pro leagues in Frankfurt and Munich and his season with Musselman and co. at Nevada.
As far as playstyle goes, don’t expect too much to changes he said. The Crew will still play with a fast pace and put a heavy emphasis on shooting and getting out in transition. Culture-wise, though, plenty of changes will be afoot. Russotti said that, despite a 29-7 record last season, he felt the program’s culture “got a little lax and undisciplined” but believes Fuca is the one to get it back on track.
“We have to set an example from day one that this year is going to be different,” Fuca said in August. “There were some things last year that kind of fell by the wayside in terms of lack of discipline but this year we’ll absolutely hold them to a higher standard. But the buzz in the gym the other day just felt different. … Obviously, we’ve added a couple really good pieces. There’s a new head coach and a couple new coaches, but we’re really excited. We have to earn these guys’ respect early and just continue to develop it.”
At the program’s media day last week, Fuca talked about how his first few months on the job had been a bit disjointed, but only because turnout at practice had been inconsistent due to so many players visiting colleges as part of their recruitments. Now, as the season gets underway, practices have become more consistent and Fuca feels like process of establishing and developing chemistry on a team with only three returning players has gotten off to the start he wants.
“Obviously there are high expectations,” Fuca said last week. “The national championship has been thrown around. Honestly, we have a lot of competitive players on this team and I think anything short of that would be an underachievement. I think realistically, we want to continue to win at a high clip. We want to be able to win as many games as we can and if that means winning 35 games or a national championship, then we’ll find out.”
The Crew have two games this weekend scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 6 p.m. at Napa Valley College. They won’t play again in the area until late January.