Bas­ket­ball’s Fletcher Re­mem­bered

MidWeek Islander (East Oahu) - - EAST OAHU EAST OAHU SPORTS ISLANDER / DECEMBER 15, - By JACK DANILEWICZ

As the long­time head bas­ket­ball coach at Mary­knoll, it be­came com­mon for Tony Sel­litto’s play­ers to tip him off re­gard­ing an up-and­com­ing younger brother plan­ning to pass through the pro­gram.

Af­ter awhile, Sel­litto stopped hear­ing it — that is, un­til Francis Fletcher came along.

“His brother was play­ing for me, and he kept telling me, ‘You know, he’s not bad. I think he’s go­ing to be the best of all of us.’ And I said, ‘Stop it. He can’t be that good.’ I had had all of these brother com­bi­na­tions, and I was real for­tu­nate.

“When he came to me, he was maybe 5-8 or 5-9, and he be­came a huge kid,” Sel­litto added. “He was not very pol­ished then, but he had been around the pro­gram, and he changed my think­ing (about younger broth­ers com­ing up). Francis was prob­a­bly the best of them all.”

Fletcher, a Hawaii Kai res­i­dent, passed away Nov. 17 at age 46. His im­pact on those who knew him as well as on the small col­lege bas­ket­ball scene in Hawaii will re­main. Fol­low­ing his ca­reer at Mary­knoll, he spent a year at Di­vi­sion I Creighton be­fore over­hear­ing a fac­ulty mem­ber un­der the in­flu­ence at a so­cial gath­er­ing dis­close that the pro­gram was about to go on NCAA pro­ba­tion. Fletcher quickly called up Cham­i­nade coach Merv Lopes, who had told him that if it didn’t work out on the Main­land, he was wel­come at CUH.

Sel­litto, who would soon make his mark at the col­lege level at Hawaii Pa­cific, thought Fletcher would thrive at CUH. In­deed, he helped lead Cham­i­nade to his­toric wins over SMU and Louisville and was the District 29 Player of the Year in 1985.

“We were both no-non­sense coaches, and I thought he’d be good for Merv,” Sel­litto said.

Af­ter an eight-year pro ca­reer in Europe, Fletcher joined Sel­litto’s staff at HPU, where he tu­tored the post play­ers. Sel­litto also cred­ited Fletcher for paving the way for HPU and other schools to suc­cess­fully re­cruit for­eign play­ers. The break­through was Hannes Haid, who ar­rived at HPU in 1989.

“We were the first school to get a for­eign player to come here,” said Sel­litto, who is the only coach to lead a Hawaii team to a na­tional cham­pi­onship in bas­ket­ball. Later on, Fletcher helped HPU land Juer­gen Mal­beck, among oth­ers.

Among Fletcher’s qual­i­ties was a healthy sense of hu­mor, ac­cord­ing to Kaimuki head coach Kelly Grant, who was an HPU as­sis­tant for a time.

“He was very car­ing,” said Grant, who roomed with Fletcher when HPU was on the road.“He would al­ways take time out to ask about your fam­ily, and he was also a prankster.”

One of Sel­litto’s fa­vorite sto­ries is the time Fletcher ar­rived at the Mary­knoll cam­pus with­out his jersey — on game day, no less — claim­ing it had flown off of his mo­tor­cy­cle and was back on the H-1 free­way.

“I was livid — I was a stick­ler for that stuff,” Sel­litto said. “We get on the bus, come to the spot on the free­way, and he says to me,‘Look coach, there’s my jersey.’ And there it was.”

Dur­ing Sel­litto’s re­tire­ment, he was touched by his friend­ship with Fletcher. “He was al­ways concerned about me. He would call up and ask if I was all right. We were very close, and it’s hard for me to talk about him.”

Con­tact Jack Danilew­ciz at jack­ster.1969@ya­hoo.com.

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