Basketball’s Fletcher Remembered
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 email@example.com.