J.J. Foster looks to revive South Side basketball
Former Luers coach approved as Archers’ new leader.
A column by Reggie Hayes of The News-Sentinel
Monday, June 26, 2017 08:15 pm
John Flowers called and offered his endorsement, which is an encouraging way to start.
J.J. Foster was already convinced taking the South Side High School boys basketball coaching job was the right move, but it didn’t hurt to have one of South’s all-time great players second the notion.
“He heard about it and he was excited,” Foster said. “He was definitely excited.”
The excitement is high, too, for Foster, who moves into the South Side job – approved by the Fort Wayne Community Schools board on Monday night – after four years at Bishop Luers.
Foster, who turns 48 next week, grew up in Fort Wayne, starred at Homestead High School and saw some of South Side’s best teams as a kid. He remembers when Flowers, who now lives in Arizona, soared to become one of the best players in the country.
Foster believes South can revive the glory days.
“I heard people say I was coming to South Side before I had even talked to anybody about it,” Foster said. “As I sat back and thought about it, what a great opportunity. I was born and raised in Fort Wayne and I’m aware of the tradition and history and some of the players that have come out of there.”
South has struggled in recent seasons, having finished above .500 only once in the last seven years, a 16-8 season two years ago under Mike Novell. South hasn’t won a sectional title since 2007.
Foster is the right coach to turn things around.
Not only is Foster a Fort Wayne guy, through and through, he has been in almost every type of coaching situation. After playing college basketball at Coastal Carolina, he spent three years as an assistant at Indiana Tech, then joined the boys staff at Harding High School under coach Al Gooden. Gooden is one of the best Fort Wayne prep coaches of all time, so Foster learned from a master.
Foster was part of Gooden’s staff that led the Hawks to the Class 2A state championship in 2001.
Foster also coached Harding and Wayne girls as a head coach prior to his run at Luers. Taking over after James Blackmon Sr. left for Marion, Foster led Luers to a 53-41 record in four years, winning the sectional and regional championships last season.
As he takes over at South, his mind flashed back a bit to the start.
“There are so many parallels to our teams at Harding, back in the day,” Foster said. “It is a sleeping giant. You take those kids in the neighborhood and they might not be the best basketball players, but you put guys on the floor who work hard and understand what they’re doing and you have a chance, night in and night out.
“That’s what we did at Luers,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot of athletes, but we had guys who understood the game. Here, we’ll have a little more athleticism and we’ll teach these guys the right way to play. It can be a heck of a combination – full of potential and opportunity.”
Foster knows many of the South players, and has coached some of them in Amateur Athletic Union basketball since his son, J.J. Foster Jr., just finished his high school career.
Coaching against South the last four years, he also has an idea of the strengths and weaknesses from an opponent’s point of view.
“J.T. Langston was on our state championship team at Harding and he has two kids at South,” Foster said. “He’s all excited about me having he opportunity to coach his kids.”
Foster talked to some of the South players during an open gym recently, knowing it was likely he would be approved as coach.
He asked how many of the players already knew him. Some raised their hands. He asked how many had heard something about him. Almost every other hand was up. He asked what they had heard. What they had heard was positive, he said. I’d argue that no player will bring up something negative about the coach who’s about to control his playing time, but Foster’s coaching style does carry a positive vibe.
He’ll start his South team with the approach he has taken at other programs: By first making sure everyone’s on the same page.
“I don’t assume people know things,” Foster said. “I don’t ask who knows what because nobody is going to admit they don’t know something. I’m a detail guy. Coaches and players who have been around me, they know that. I’m breaking it down to the nth degree. I’m not leaving anything up to happenstance.”
South Side’s first sectional basketball title came in 1923. It’s an old school. Foster is a bit of an old-school coach, which makes him the right one to kick off a new era.