The Bulldogs were already a big favorite to win the state title for coach Brandon Roy. Fuller, a four-star shooting guard, played for Garfield his freshman season before transferring to Nathan Hale.
The beat dropped the same day P.J. Fuller shook the local basketball scene.
“What’s a Hater?” is the title of the track produced by Jack City and featuring lyrics from Fuller. The catchy hook sounds like a pre-emptive attack for those questioning Fuller’s journeyman high-school career that now has him starting at Garfield.
“Nah, it’s just a song,” he said after scoring 16 points in an 85-32 win against Bainbridge on Tuesday.
Five teams to watch
Nathan Hale: Many predict the Raiders will flop as most of last year’s players are gone, but new coach Walter Williams has talent to work with.
Kentwood: The Conks have to reload, in the absence of last year’s do-everything guards Rayvaughn Bolton and Darius Lubom, if they hope to repeat as Class 4A state champions.
Lincoln: The Abes lost point guard Trevante Anderson, who transferred to Rainier Beach, which puts a crimp on Lincoln’s Class 3A state title hopes.
King’s: The Knights look to make their 13th straight Class 1A state tournament appearance. They placed third last season and winning the title in 2016 and 2015.
Selah: Hot hands Elijah Pepper and Zak Donato are back, scoring 33 points each in a season-opener win and aiming to win the Class 2A state title after placing second last March.
Five players to watch
Kevin Porter, Rainier Beach (6-5, Sr., SF): Regarded as the top player in the state by multiple recruiting sites, the USC commit aims to reclaim the Class 3A state title for Beach.
Erik Stevenson, Timberline (6-4, Sr., SG): The Wichita State commit averaged 20.3 points and six rebounds per game in leading the Blazers to a Class 3A state tournament appearance last season.
C.J. Elleby, Cleveland (6-6, Sr., SF):
The Washington State commit averaged 23 points, 13 rebounds and four assists per game in leading the Eagles to the Class 3A state tourney last March.
Riley Sorn, Richland (7-3, Sr., C): Set a Class 4A state tournament record with 30 blocks in four games, helping the Bombers reach the semifinals.
Devin Culp, Gonzaga Prep (6-5, Sr., SF): Looking to build on last season’s Class 4A third-place finish in his last hurrah before playing football at Washington.
Still, Fuller’s opportunity to be a back-to-back Class 3A state champion will certainly bring out the haters, because last season he was at Nathan Hale. Fuller, a 6-foot-3 guard, played for Garfield as a freshman, transferred to Hale and played alongside McDonald’s All-American Michael Porter Jr. and for first-year coach Brandon Roy, a former NBA All-Star.
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But after Roy, a Garfield alum, left Hale to coach his alma mater, Fuller and his mother moved to Southern California, enrolling at prep power Mater Dei in Santa Ana. During the August move, Fuller’s grandmother let the family know she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.
“My mom didn’t want us to change any plans at that time,” said Fuller’s mother Melany Willis, who’s Patricia Knight’s only child. “I had friends and family just sacrificing for me, taking her to chemo treatments, staying three, four hours and then caring for her at night … because we didn’t know what cancer was going to be like; we had no idea.”
Periodically for three months last fall, Willis traveled between California and Washington to help care for her mother and son. Fuller played for Mater Dei, but was gone by November when Willis decided the strain was too much.
Willis, a Seattleite who played basketball at Seattle Prep, moved close to Garfield. Once enrolled in the school and qualified as a “hardship” transfer, Fuller was able to play in the Bulldogs’ season opener against Cleveland on Friday. “What’s a Hater?” was uploaded to SoundCloud, Fuller rapping, “I’m a 206 kid, doing 206 things.”
Garfield was already ranked No. 1 in Class 3A before the addition of Fuller, a four-star recruit. Roy believes the team is better than the Hale lineup that went 29-0 in winning the state title and finishing No. 1 in the nation.
“He adds an explosive element to our team,” Roy said of Fuller. “So the sky’s the limit because they’re really good. They have a chance to do what Hale did last year, but it’s different. At Hale, we really depended on our starting five and guys came off the bench to help with foul trouble and things like that. This year, this team is a lot deeper. It’s all about the work they put in and staying focused and motivated.”
Fuller is like having a third point guard on the floor. He averaged 15.4 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists for Hale.
At Garfield, he’ll join senior Eddie Turner and junior Pierre Crockrell Jr. in the starting lineup. Four-star recruit J’Raan Brooks and junior Jamon Kemp are inside.
Among the reserves are Rainier Beach transfers Jorell and Joe Saterfield and Hale transfer MarJon Beauchamp. In the wings is Ed Chang, a 6-7 center who relocated from Nebraska. The Washington commit is waiting to be cleared by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to play this season.
“In practice, we get to compete against guys who are as good as us and we didn’t have that last year,” said Turner of the revamped roster. Current Pac-12 players Daejon Davis (Stanford) and Jaylen Nowell (Washington) led the Bulldogs to the state-championship game against Hale last season.
“We knew against Cleveland that we’re going to be OK,” Turner continued. “It was tied up in the fourth quarter and we went on a 30-11 run (to win 81-65). We have the potential to be explosive and are forming a big family.”
Willis said her mother is doing better than when first diagnosed. She and her son enjoyed their brief experience in California — especially the sun — but are happy things are settling down in their native city.
Fuller praised his mother’s strength through the rapid changes. It’s like a verse from the song, which is former Hale teammate Kateel Barnett’s creative project.
“There is nothing that I cannot achieve,” Fuller raps. “I am the toughest; I’ll never be weak.”
“Mater Dei is a spectacular school and the coaches were amazing,” he said. “There are always going to be critics, and we try not to pay that any attention. But what they’re saying is potentially true, we do have the potential to go undefeated. We do have the potential to do exactly what we did last year. We just have to buy into what Coach Roy is telling us.”