Can Fuller's connections help Louisville?

Can new Louisville assistant Tim Fuller, a bright coach, with a promising future as a recruiter, convince top Nike prospects to sign with one of adidas' flagship schools? Rick Pitino is counting on it.

Why did Rick Pitino hire Tim Fuller, a former Nike NBA player representative, to replace Walter McCarty on his coaching staff?

There are probably a lot of reasons.

Fuller, obviously, came highly recommended by Division 1 coaches Frank Haith (Miami), Dave Odom (South Carolina) and Ed Cooley (Fairfield).

Fuller also understands what it takes to succeed at the highest levels in college basketball, having played in the competitive ACC at Wake Forest.

But here is the main reason Pitino tabbed Fuller as his new assistant: To help Louisville land talented recruits from the Nike grassroots organization, something that has become increasingly difficult for the future Hall of Fame coach in recent years.

It's no secret that Pitino has lost many of his top recruits to Nike-affiliated schools the past few years. We're not talking about just any recruits, we're talking about guys Pitino out-worked the competition for but still couldn't close the deal, at least partially related to Louisville's adidas-affiliation.

Here's just a sampling of the players Pitino lost to the swoosh: Tyreke Evans to Memphis. Fab Melo to Syracuse. Marquis Teague to Kentucky. Louisville was the heavy favorite to land all three. In the end, each of those McDonald's All-Americans picked Nike-affiliated programs.

Tim Fuller
Anthony Davis, who rose from unknown to Top 10 prospect this spring, is just the latest example. Louisville thought they were in good shape with the 6-10 forward from Chicago. The Cardinals had a connection with Davis through his longtime friend Wayne Blackshear, who committed to the Cardinals last year.

But Davis eliminated Louisville from consideration on the day Pitino introduced Fuller as his new assistant.

Davis talked highly about Louisville last week at the NBA Top 100 Camp and was scheduled to visit the Cardinals last weekend with Blackshear. But the two mysteriously never showed up in Louisville. Instead, they ended up at a Nike-sponsored basketball camp. Both players will participate in another Nike-sponsored basketball camp next week.

Here's all you need to know about why Louisville didn't make the final cut for Davis: The Cardinals didn't wear the right shoes. Syracuse does. Kentucky does. So does Ohio State. Those three programs are the final three Davis is still considering. All three teams wear Nike shoes.

And that's how it goes these days. Nike controls the market on elite high school basketball prospects and those players invariably get steered to Nike-affiliated college programs, much like cattle through a slaughterhouse.

Now you understand why Pitino went 'outside' the box in hiring Fuller, whose resume is short on Division 1 coaching experience but long in terms of connections throughout Nike's extensive grassroots high school basketball organization.

Pitino hopes Fuller can help his program stem the tide of recruits signing with Nike schools and land a few elite swoosh prospects for the Cards.

The million dollar question: Can Fuller, a bright coach, with a promising future as a recruiter, convince top Nike prospects to sign with one of adidas' flagship schools?

The future of Rick Pitino's Louisville program might depend on the answer to that question.

"I didn't burn any of my Nike stuff," Fuller said Monday during his initial press conference at Louisville. "What [Nike] told me when I was leaving is that 'you're always family and we support Tim Fuller in whatever he does.'

"I look forward to bringing that bridge to Louisville."

So is Pitino.

Though Fuller's impact might not be felt this year, he could become a major recruiting force in the near future, as much of his focus at Nike was to identify and build relationships with young prospects in the Classes of 2012, 2013, and 2014.

"It's going to take me time," Fuller admitted. "I know Coach Pitino is closing out [his career] and my goal is to have him dominant in the basketball game and pursue 30 win seasons on a consistent basis. And to do that you have to have talent."

"You have to continuously recruit because when a player does play well he's going to pursue his dreams of going to the next level," Fuller said. "That's where I feel I'm going to add value right away. I'm going to be a tireless, relentless recruiter who is going to go into where ever and not be intimated by anyone."

Obviously, Fuller was talking about Louisville's arch-nemesis, Kentucky coach John Calipari. Since coming to Kentucky last season, Calipari has landed two No. 1-ranked recruiting classes and is putting the pieces together for a third. Calipari also swooped in at the last minute and beat Louisville for Teague, a player whose father Pitino coached at Boston University and had recruited for three years.

"I know there's a great school down the street but they're not going to beat us on guys," Fuller said. "I'm going to give it my full time, devotion and attention to make sure that Louisville has premier talent in the country."

Pitino, who signed a contract extension this spring through 2017, has time to wait while Fuller develops into his recruiting role.

"I had to go in and ask Coach what he was looking for because I didn't want to sell him on things I couldn't do," Fuller said. "If he was looking for someone if he got ejected from a game to stand up and run the team that wouldn't be me.

"But what he was looking for was somebody that was going to come in and enhance the current players and nurture them, as well as to bring in the premier talent in the country. And that's what I'm all about."

It might take some time, but Fuller has the experience and connections to get the job done.

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