Oftentimes in war, the success of the victors stems from their unique ability to win over their enemies’ will. Successful warriors can compel their adversaries to give in to their demands by initiating calculating mind games on the battlefield.
Senior guard Branduinn Fullove, the general of the UCSB men’s basketball team, has turned military science into a hardwood showcase of pure competition at the Thunderdome over the past four years.
“He’s a very competitive guy. He’s a stubborn guy too, but it’s a benefit for him because he’s stubborn enough not to let people get to him,” UCSB Assistant Head Coach Marty Wilson said. “Why would you talk to Michael Jordan and get him more riled up and motivated to play? I think Branduinn’s the same way; he tries to find ways to motivate and challenge himself.”
Throughout his Gaucho career, Fullove has torched opponents with his lights-out shooting, knack for getting to the rack and determination to score. Even though the 2002-03 Big West Player of the Year has averaged almost 14 points per game over his tenure at Santa Barbara, Fullove’s true impact on UCSB’s offensive fluidity and defensive tenacity has never shown up in the stat box.
“Whatever it takes to win. My competitive nature comes out because I want to win so badly,” Fullove insisted. “I think that’s what’s allowed me to get some of these individual awards. It was always more important to win the championship and win every night.”
Even during practices, Fullove focuses on winning, but more importantly on not losing.
“I hate to lose more than I love to win, absolutely,” Fullove said, reiterating a quote from tennis legend Jimmy Connors’ repertoire. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes not to lose. When you win, that’s what’s supposed to happen. Emotion-wise, you’ll be more worked up when you lose than when you win because that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
Fullove has always been the star. It is in his nature to shine. Wilson, who has thrived in recent years recruiting kids to Santa Barbara, remembers Fullove as a 10-year-old phenom.
“I coached a little league team in the ARC (American Roundball Corporation) in the San Fernando Valley, and it was kind of ironic that Branduinn’s team played my team in the finals and they ended up winning,” Wilson said. “He was such a tough little player back then. He was physical, strong and tough enough to stand out heads and shoulders against all the other kinds back then.”
The ARC was just the beginning of Fullove and Wilson’s relationship. Fullove prepped at Simi Valley High School, the same school that produced former NBA star and Fullove’s current mentor Don McLean. The four-year All-Maramonte League player helped lead SVHS to the CIP championship game and an appearance in the State Tournament by averaging 24.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.4 steals per game during his senior campaign.
“His work ethic is second to none and he’s extremely competitive. He’s a money player,” Simi Valley Athletic Director Dean Bradshaw said, having coached Branduinn for his first three years in high school. “When the game’s in hand, he’s the one who steps up and wants to shoot it. He leads by example.”
A host of colleges came courting the bluechip during his final season. While some of them, like the University of Wyoming, offered a more recognizable conference, Wilson and UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams had already established a close relationship with the family and the school. Wilson, a former Simi Valley High School basketball star himself, worked with Bradshaw during the 1989-90 season after graduating from college and was familiar with the home turf.
“I knew everything about the process from the other side, having talked to Dean and [current SVHS Head Coach] Christian [Aurand]. They really gave us a leg up in the process, and we thought it would be a good fit for him,” Willson said. “Coach Williams had a great in-home visit with Branduinn, and he just told him, ‘come up to Santa Barbara and help build this program,'” Bradshaw said.
Albeit, 1,361 points (#6 all-time at UCSB), 261 assists (#9 all-time), 154 three-point baskets (#5 all-time) and three-straight All-Big West Teams later, Fullove has done just what Williams asked by helping reinstate the Gaucho basketball program to its glory days of the late 1980s.
During his sophomore season, Fullove helped lead the Gauchos to a Big West Championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2002. Last season, he was selected Conference Player of the Year for guiding the Gauchos to William’s first outright Big West title. Averaging nearly 15 points per game and leading Santa Barbara to 14 conference wins, Fullove was named an Honorable Mention All-American by The Associated Press, the first such accolade by a Gaucho since Lucius Davis in 1992.
Fullove has showcased his passing ability this season, although he still leads the team in scoring. He has also tried to help some of the younger players mesh into the system. Guard Chris Devine, using his redshirt freshman season to prepare for next year, appears to have the same competitive flare that Fullove exudes.
“Chris is probably as competitive as any guy we have, and Branduinn has done a great job of taking him under his wing,” Wilson said. “By him being competitive with him in practice, it shows what you need to do to be successful in this league.”
In almost a ritualistic fashion, Fullove focuses on the big game from the minute he wakes up in the morning, eager to get out on the court. Fullove certainly knows how to get into the heads of some of the best players in the Big West. He was reprimanded by the conference for actions during and comments following Santa Barbara’s victory over rival Cal Poly on Jan. 17, and senior forwards Varnie Dennis and Shane Shilling have exchanged words in the past.
“I have to be careful what I say, but I think there’s a bit of a mind game, and I have a lot of competitive riles going on with guys in the conference,” Fullove said. “Some of the guys are my friends, like [senior guard] Cardell Butler from Utah State, so we’ll go at it and then acknowledge each other.”
The Big West reprimand hasn’t stopped Fullove from playing his game, and since he claims to not even read the newspapers, Fullove is content settling business out on the court and sporting his legendary grin of satisfaction after the win.
“I don’t play the mind game so much by talking. I’ll do it through the way I stay on someone for a period of, like, four minutes, and make them work while I beat them up on the defensive end when the ref’s unaware of it,” Fullove said. “If I just scored an and-one on a three, I might turn and be like ‘Hey, I’m looking over at your coach, you might be getting a sub pretty quick.'”
During the game against UC Irvine at the Bren Events Center on Jan. 5, Fullove came out on fire and scorched his man for a few early buckets to start the game, sending the discouraged guard to the bench. Turning to Anteater Head Coach Pat Douglas, Fullove jokingly told him to put the player back in so he could have more fun lighting him up one-on-one.
Despite the Gauchos’ struggle this month, Fullove draws comparisons to the 2001-02 squad that did not beat the top two seeds until Santa Barbara pulled off both upsets in the conference tournament. Now that UCSB is back in a dark-horse mode, Fullove is confident that the Gauchos will respond to the underdog tag and turn things around late in the season to culminate his legacy.
“Any time you’ve had somebody around here for four years, you’re going to miss him,” Wilson said. “Especially with all the things that he’s done. We’re going to miss him off the court too.”
And that’s exactly where the rest of the disgruntled conference wants to get to know Fullove after he graduates – off the court.