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Basketball’s Todd Fuller Was A True Student-Athlete

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NC State media relations

Les Robinson vividly remembers the time Todd Fuller made the only B of his academic career. It was a first for the 6-11 forward from Charlotte, in any grade, in any class.

Fuller was down, and Robinson thought he could fulfill a coaching obligation to support and cheer up his star player.

“I called him in the office, just to talk,” said the former NC State men’s basketball coach. “I told him I remember when I made my first B, they had a damned parade back in West Virginia.”

Fuller didn’t exactly appreciate the attempt at humor, but it did put into perspective the accomplishments the Academic All-American and his affable coach.

Not only did Fuller —the centerpiece of Robinson’s final team — lead the ACC in scoring with 20.9 points per game and finish second to Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan in rebounding at 9.9 per game, he also graduated summa cum laude with a 3.96 grade point average in applied mathematics.

He was part of NC State’s inaugural inductees into Phi Beta Kappa, a big deal for a university that just a few years before had been denied a campus chapter of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honor society, primarily because of the poor graduation rates of the men’s basketball team under Jim Valvano.

It was one of the pieces that turned faculty against Valvano, because a Duke professor used the basketball team’s academics as a reason to deny NC State’s application for membership into the organization.

Fuller’s induction brought the controversy full circle — a true example of a student-athlete who was accomplished on the court and in the classroom. The two-time academic All-American was named the 1996 GTE top academic men’s basketball player, the Paine Webber Scholar-Athlete of the Year and an NCAA Postgraduate Scholar. Had he not wanted to pursue a professional basketball career, he could have become NC State’s first Rhodes Scholar, but chose not to go through the application process.

Those are all reasons Fuller’s No. 52 jersey is honored in the rafters of PNC Arena.

Fuller eventually became a first-round NBA draft pick of the Golden State Warriors, the No. 11 overall selection just ahead of high school player Kobe Bryant. He played just three years in the NBA, but spent more than a decade playing professional basketball all over the world.

Following his retirement in 2007, Fuller returned to his hometown to begin life as a civilian. He fulfilled a longtime dream of earning his pilot’s license. He got married, had three kids and worked as an athletics director of a small private school.

Eventually, he became a high school math teacher. He maintained his close ties to NC State, working with mathematics professor John Griggs, who serves as the head of the Wolfpack basketball stats crew, to conduct the Todd Fuller Mathematics Competition for Raleigh-area high school students. He also served as a member of the Park Scholarship Selection Committee, screening candidates for NC State’s most prestigious academic scholarship.

“Todd is one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever taught and ever known, for that matter,” said Griggs. “He was a true student-athlete in every way, maximizing his abilities in both endeavors.

“He was the top scholastic athlete in the nation his senior year with a 3.97 grade point average in applied mathematics, while achieving first-team All-ACC honors in basketball.”

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Two years ago, at Griggs’ suggestion, Fuller started looking into NC State’s innovative and rigorous Master of Science in Analytics program offered through the Institute for Advanced Analytics. In the brief history of the program, the intensive 10-month course has become one of NC State’s most rigorous and accomplished graduate degree programs.

Last fall, Fuller was accepted into the largest class in the program’s nine-year history, with a total of 114 students. He packed up his family and moved back to Raleigh, where he became reacquainted with classwork, long nights of studying and group projects with similarly talented students.

He loved every minute.

“It seemed like a good fit for me,” Fuller said. “Whatever I get into, I want to excel at it to the best of my ability.

“A lot of people in society stereotype and think that if someone is into basketball they are probably not going to get into something that is academically intense.

“I never felt that way.”

Early this May, exactly 20 years after he earned his bachelor of science degree from NC State, he walked across the stage again to get his master’s degree.

Fuller wasn’t the only former athlete to return to campus to complete their NC State education. Six others, including dual-sport start Andrew Brackman and basketball players Desmond Lee and Trevor Ferguson, also graduated during spring commencement after participating in the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes reconnect program, which helps those who left school without a diploma return to campus.

Robinson started a version of the program when he was athletics director, and it continues to this day. Former baseball players Logan Jernigan and Pratt Maynard also graduated this spring, along with football player Rodman Noel.

"It will always be our intentions to continue to assist our athletes in securing their degrees, and this year will be a high water mark for numbers who have taken advantage of this program," director of athletics Debbie Yow said.

Tim Peeler is a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker and can be reached at