2023 INDUCTEE - SHONDRA FULLER
By David Elwell
The Decatur Daily
When Shondra Fuller joined the basketball program at Decatur High, head coach Mike Smith walked her over to the area under the basket.
“I pointed to this block and then the other block,” Smith said. “I told her the space in between belongs to you.”
The 6-footer owned that space well during Decatur’s amazing three-year run as Class 6A state champions in 1990, 1991 and 1992. For those three seasons the Red Raiders were a combined 91-7.
Fuller was a three-time All-State selection, a Super Five selection in her senior season and a two-time All-American honorable mention selection.
She is being inducted into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame on May 6.
“I am so happy for Shondra because she is so deserving,” Smith said. “She is a big reason why we were able to accomplish so much in those championship seasons.”
Fuller will be reunited with teammate Yolanda Watkins, who was inducted into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame in 2017. They were called Decatur’s Twin Towers. They both went on to play at the University of Alabama.
“Some people called us the Windex Sisters because we cleaned up the backboards,” Fuller said. “We were like peanut butter and jelly. Yo played all over the court and I always played my part under the basket.”
Fuller’s basketball career got off to a rocky start when she failed to make the seventh-grade team at Oak Park Middle School.
“I had seen Vickie Orr play basketball at Hartselle,” Fuller said. “I wanted to play basketball like her, but I couldn’t chew gum and walk at the same time.”
Fuller moved to Brookhaven Middle School the next year and played on the eighth-grade team. The next year she was at Decatur as a freshman.
“Coach Smith was a like a father figure to me,” Fuller said. “He pushed me to take basketball more seriously. I started going to camps and playing summer ball.
“I could always run and jump. I just couldn’t play basketball. Coach Smith showed me how to play. He gave me a role that would help make our team successful.”
Fuller learned the art of rebounding. She could use her size to block out opponents or use her muscle to pin opponents inside.
“We had a boys practice team that we scrimmaged against every day,” Smith said. “They all knew what it felt like to catch one of her powerful hips in the side.”
Fuller’s muscle inside did give Watkins freedom to move around on offense or defense. It also allowed Decatur’s guards to apply defensive pressure a little further out from the goal than most teams.
The Decatur girls had success before Fuller arrived on campus. The 1987 team advanced to the state finals before falling in the finals in a heart-breaker to Vestavia, 49-45. The 1988 team got beat in the substate finals by Butler, 61-52.
“My freshman year we lost to Johnson (63-57) in the substate,” Fuller said. “I was so mad. We just knew we were going to state. That was such a painful loss that I didn’t want to ever feel that way again.”
Fuller wouldn’t feel anything but state championships the next three seasons.
The 1990 team went 29-1. The only loss was to Athens, 56-52. The Red Raiders’ run through the substate included a 67-60 revenge win over Johnson. Decatur beat Vigor in the semifinals, 67-59, and then Berry, 69-54, in the finals.
“Winning that first state championship felt so good,” Fuller said. “The best part was we knew we could do it again the next year.”
The 1991 team finished at 32-1 and was ranked No. 7 in the country by USA Today. The loss was to Franklin County, Tennessee, 81-64. The Red Raiders blew through the substate round winning by 30, 42 and 25 points. Carver kept it close in the state semifinals before going down 52-45. Decatur blew out Wenonah in the finals, 73-53.
“Of course we start thinking about a three-peat for our senior season,” Fuller said. “We really didn’t see how we could be stopped.”
The Red Raiders got the three-peat, but it wasn’t smooth sailing that season. It started with an injury to Fuller in the second game of the season at Athens.
“Shondra comes out of the game holding her hand,” Smith said. “That pinkie finger was bent so far that if she was facing north when seated her finger was pointing east.
“She was sitting on the bench close to me and I saw her grab that hand and pop that finger back in place. The trainer taped a Popsicle stick to it and she was ready to play.”
That night Fuller’s mother, Matilda Coleman, took her daughter to the emergency room. Shondra left with a cast that would keep her on the bench for three weeks. Decatur lost four of its next six games.
“I’m sitting on the bench watching us get beat all because of my pinky finger,” Fuller said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
When Fuller returned the Red Raiders won their next 12. Franklin County, Tennessee, beat Decatur in January for the fifth loss. The Red Raiders won their next 14 to wrap up the state championship. They beat Grissom in the finals, 77-50.
Watkins was selected as the state’s Miss Basketball. Fuller and Watkins were teammates on the state’s Super Five team.
“Every school in the country wanted Yo to come play for them,” Smith said. “I knew Shondra could play at a high level, too.
“When Yo narrowed her list of schools down to just a few, we took her for visits. I made sure Shondra went along with us.”
Often times a situation with a team having two star players can cause issues. There can be jealousy off the court when it comes to college recruiting and that can spill over onto the court.
Fuller would not let that happen.
“She had colleges coming to watch her play and that meant they were going to see me play, too,” Fuller said. “I knew that would help me get noticed.”
The friendship for Fuller and Watkins continued at Alabama.
“My role didn’t change much from what it was in high school,” Fuller said. “What changed was that I was 6-foot having to fight taller girls who were 6-3 and 6-5 for rebounds. That didn’t happen in high school.”
A knee injury ended Fuller’s sophomore season early in the 1993-1994 season. That season had already had a somber start because of the unexpected death of Alabama assistant coach Dottie Kelso in September.
On the court, it turned out to be one of the best season’s ever for the Crimson Tide. They advanced to the NCAA Tournament Final Four before falling in the semifinals to Louisiana Tech.
“Coach Kelso was the main coach who recruited me to Alabama,” Fuller said. “Losing her was tough. Having the injury was rough to deal with. Then the team had that great season and all I could do was watch.
“When I came back I couldn’t do the things I used to do. My love for the game was gone. I got a medical hardship. My career was over, but I can always say I played with Yo. She was the GOAT (greatest of all time).”
Watkins may have been the GOAT, but Smith refers to Fuller as the mother hen of the team.
“If there was any sort of problem on the team, Shondra usually took care of it,” Smith said. “The rest of the players loved her like she was their mother. That made those teams fun to be around. It was a special team with special players who did special things.”