- David Auguste, ESPN.com Editor
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This story appeared in the Greater Seattle edition of the Jan./Feb. ESPN RISE Magazine.
As the girls on the Kennedy (Burien, Wash.) basketball team positioned themselves on the baseline to begin running sprints, then-sophomore Yaz Fuller peeked over at head coach Tom Mummert to see if he was paying attention as she covertly crept over the starting line.
Mummert had his eye on Fuller at first, so she took a few steps back. When Mummert turned away, she snuck a few steps over the line in anticipation of him yelling go. Once he did, she easily coasted to victory with a devilish grin.
The other girls who had noticed Fuller cheat also smiled. She had gotten one over on coach.
The next time, however, she wasn't so fortunate.
After failing to run hard on a fast-break drill, Fuller drew the ire of Mummert, who sent the Seattle Prep transfer off the court.
"I told her to go sit on the sidelines with the other substitutes," Mummert recalls. "I didn't single her out. I treat everybody the same. But she seemed to be the one that goofs off more than anyone else."
Fuller returned to practice humbled and for the rest of the season showcased the immense talent that has Mummert the envy of rival coaches -- and Fuller an intriguing prospect for Division I college programs. She has come a long way since her days of testing her coach's limits in practice. Back then she was admittedly lazy much of the time. You could almost envision Allen Iverson repeating "practice" 20-plus times during a press conference.
We talkin' about practice, man.
Now Fuller thrives on putting defenders to the test of keeping up with her lightning-quick first step or her ability to bury treys from several feet beyond the arc. The 5-foot-8 senior combo guard averaged 16.7 points and 2.3 assists per contest in guiding the Lancers to the Class 3A crown last winter. She also earned Seamount League and state tourney MVP honors.
With her success and continued maturation, Fuller has toned down her act, but she remains a source of humor for her teammates.
"Literally, everything she does is funny," says junior forward Aminah Williams.
"She's a goofy person," adds junior backcourt mate Jasmine Lemon. "In practice, she is just a character on the floor. But we all have a good sense of humor."
Early on, however, Mummert viewed her actions as problematic.
"She had to develop a better work ethic," Mummert says. "She was so far ahead of everybody else talent-wise, so she thought she didn't have to work as hard. But that changed real quick. Her work ethic has gotten better."
With the game on the line, Fuller's goofy side disappears and she takes on the supreme focus of her favorite player, Kobe Bryant.
"When I'm having fun, I make shots I didn't know I could do," Fuller says. "But when I start to see time is running down and know I haven't been going all out, it's going to be hard for someone to stop me."
Early in last year's playoffs, Fuller jammed the index finger on her shooting hand and struggled with her shot throughout the postseason. She reinjured it in the finals, but with Kennedy clinging to a one-possession lead late in the championship, she shrugged off the pain and drove to the basket for a decisive and-one to seal the victory and Kennedy's first state crown.
"Pretty much every game there's something you will be in awe about," Williams says of Fuller. "When we need a basket, we know who to go to."
Fuller credits the Lancers' coaching staff and her relationship with three-time WNBA MVP Sheryl Swoopes for sparking her desire to be a more focused player.
"I'm trying to win another championship and trying to be a better player for the next level," Fuller says. "I got to take [basketball] seriously. Once the season starts, I push myself."
Fuller's renewed sense of dedication has led her to eschew her favorite Taco Del Mar entrees in favor of salads and replace sodas and sweets with water and fruits. On days when her friends call to chill, Fuller convinces them to come to the gym and rebound or spot her lifting before heading out.
"Even when I'm hurt I try to work out," she says.
She also quizzes Swoopes on how to become a more complete baller. Swoopes, whom Fuller met while competing at an invitational tournament at the Washington Athletic Club, has had a profound effect on Fuller's career, and the two have cultivated a strong bond, frequently texting each other during the week.
Kennedy has reaped the benefits of Fuller's hard work. Her first year with the Lancers, the team rebounded from a disappointing 2006-07 postseason to end the year as Class 3A runner-up. Individually, Fuller earned the first of two consecutive All-Seamount League selections.
"She's grown in maturity as well as in age," Mummert says. "All those bad habits went away."
In addition to her contributions on the court, Fuller also has shown her maturity in the community, organizing several activities to promote cancer awareness. Fuller will sport pink laces and wristbands on the court during the season. And she asked Kennedy students and faculty to bring in photos of loved ones and friends battling the disease to be posted in the school's prayer chapel.
"I'm so into it right now," Fuller says. "I see families who have gone through it, and I see how it tears them up. I hope there's more than a thousand photos."
The initiative is just another example of how Fuller has matured in her time at Kennedy. But even with a championship ring and boatloads of accolades from local and national press, don't expect her to fully give up trying to get one over on her coach.
"I just like messing with him," Fuller says, laughing. "It adds on to his gray hairs."