BY DENNIS SILVA II | email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rebuilding programs is becoming Anthony Fobb’s forte.
It happened in Aldine. After five consecutive years of not making the playoffs, Aldine High introduced Fobb as its new head coach in 2015. He immediately led the team to the postseason his first year.
When Fobb took the Mayde Creek High job last April, his task was greater. He was asked to bring to relevance a listless Rams program that had not made the playoffs since 2010, had made the playoffs just six times since the opening of the school in the mid-1980s, and had never won as many as 21 games in a year.
“My first impression was they were score-first guys,” said Fobb, who took the Rams job to move to Katy, his home since 2011. “A lot of their scores were in the 70s, 80s. I’m from this community and area, and I’d known some of the kids and mentalities. I always knew they could score the ball. They had to get stops.”
So Fobb went to work. It started with building relationships, continued with an intense focus on discipline and defense, and then the idea was to let everything fall into place.
Or, rise into place. The Rams are arguably the best story in Katy ISD this high school basketball season, winning a program-best 21 games en route to taking third in District 19-6A and making the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
Before Fobb’s arrival, the Rams had won nine total games the last two seasons.
“I think the kids have bought into that if they listen and have that discipline,” Fobb said, “we can do something great.”
‘IF WE JUST LISTEN …’
Fobb, a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He believes in discipline and that success doesn’t come without hard work.
Fobb believes coaches should be a part of a kid’s family. That philosophy comes from his high school coach, Dirk Ricks, someone whom Fobb talks to often still to this day.
Under Ricks at Jehovah-Jireh Christian Academy in Baton Rouge, Fobb’s teams went to two state championships. But it wasn’t the success on the court that Fobb remembers most. It’s the sleepovers players had at Ricks’ house, playing video games and talking life and hoops.
Fobb tries to build the same familial rapport with his players. It’s necessary because of the way he coaches, verbally and demonstratively.
“I know I coach hard, and when you try to discipline someone, they will fall in line if they know you genuinely care about them,” Fobb said.
After taking the Mayde Creek job, Fobb went to see his players compete in summer and AAU ball last year.
He observed how they took to coaching. He watched how they interacted with their parents after wins and, especially, losses. He invited them to watch him. Fobb coaches an Adidas Gold-sponsored team during the summer, Texas PRO. He wanted players to see how he coached, which is the same way during the summer as it is during the winter.
“I wouldn’t say it was hard, but it was a difficult adjustment at the beginning,” said junior guard Rommell Williams, the team’s leader in points (17.5 per game) and assists (4.8). “A culture shock. But as we worked through it, played through it, we got it. You get to the first day of practice, and you knew he’d make a big difference with his influence on and off the court.”
Every month, Fobb hosted “team-building” activities in which he took players to go watch local college basketball teams like Houston, Texas A&M and Sam Houston, among others. Fobb made sure his players saw how those teams worked pregame; Rams players remember being surprised that Texas A&M lifted weights on game day.
It showed players what it took to compete at the next level, and proved that the work the Rams were putting in, particularly in game-planning and the weight room, was no outlier.
Senior forward Sharman Carr, for instance, has benefited. Last year, Carr said he watched film because “I was a fan of myself.” This year, he watches film as a critic, looking for ways he can improve.
“A lot of these kids today are what-have-you-done-lately type of kids,” Fobb said. “I was able to show them what I did at Aldine. It worked. Look at what the University of Houston is doing. It works. I try and take them to college games to watch coaches I know whose philosophies match mine and who’re having some success. I’m always preaching the next level. You want to go to the next level, this is what it takes. I’m trying to instill that in them now.”
The Rams saw a coach who invested in them. So when Fobb told his players that no earrings were allowed to be worn during games, or to be on time or to worry less about when their next shot attempt was coming and more so how to keep the ball on one side of the floor defensively, they bought in. They trusted.
“I knew he was what we needed,” Carr said. “Teams that want to be great want to be coached. It was going to be tough, but it’s something we were willing to put up with. Everything he tells us, he tells us for a reason. If we just listen, we’ll always be on the same page.”
LEAVING A LEGACY
Carr said when players heard Fobb had been hired, they Googled him. Respect ensued.
They saw the success he has in the summers with talented AAU teams; some of his players now play in the NBA. His work in Aldine raised eyebrows. The Mustangs won 26 games Fobb’s first year, then 11 and 13. This season, Aldine won five.
Fobb was not seamless to take to, however. His emphasis on the weight room—the Rams lift three days a week, no matter what point during the season—was foreign to a program that didn’t do much lifting. Fobb has his team do yoga and a lot of stretching.
His attention and detail to defense was startling for a program content with trying to outscore other teams.
“This feels good. It’s different,” said junior guard Isaiah Battee, the team’s second-leading scorer (11.3 points per game) and leader in steals (2.3). “Defense is our game. If we’re good on defense, the offense will come. Off the court, Coach is cool. He might seem crazy during games, but he believes in us and we believe in him. As soon as he got here, there was a dramatic change. We’ve bought into what wins us games.”
The Rams were only 1-5 after the first round of District 19-6A play. The fact they even made the playoffs is a testament to the new culture. The turning point was a 61-52 win over Katy to open the second round of district. Without two starters, because of disciplinary reasons, Mayde Creek still won soundly.
“It showed that I cared more about discipline than winning,” Fobb said of the personnel changes. “It opened their eyes a bit.”
The Rams won three of their final four games to punch their ticket to the playoffs.
“We’ve overcome adversity really well this year, and that’s big,” Battee said. “We’ve had ups and downs, but more ups than downs. That makes you stronger as a team when you overcome the bad stuff that happens well.”
Fobb said this turnaround means more than the first one in Aldine.
Aldine had some transfers who helped. Mayde Creek, Fobb said, has Mayde Creek players, talent birthed at the high school’s feeder schools. Aldine had tradition; it holds the most district titles in Aldine ISD. Mayde Creek had no tradition.
Fobb commends the backing of principal Ronnie Edwards, a former high school basketball coach himself, and athletic coordinator/head football coach Mike Rabe, whose support is “unlike most head football coaches in 6A in Texas,” Fobb said. He praised his assistants, Ryan O’Neal and Steve Reese, the latter a legend at the school and a “relentless basketball technician” who took the girls program to state in the 1990s.
Everything, and everyone, Fobb said, allowed for a historic initial season.
“It’s a great thing,” Carr said. “We’ve had great players like J’Von McCormick, who plays at Auburn, who never got a chance to experience this. When we come back to visit, we’ll have our name on a banner in the rafters. This means something.”