Bishop Luers did something different in 2018 when they hired Fonso White to be their next boys basketball coach. At the time, we were all skeptical about it. After all, a year prior they swooped down to Lafayette to pick up Will Hubertz as a coach only to go 1-21. So when White came to Luers after being an assistant at Westfield, there were reservations.
Earlier this week, White resigned from his time at Bishop Luers after four seasons.
That won’t change what he did during his time at the helm of the program. An outsider will look at it and say White only had one winning season in four years. An outsider would probably say that the separation of White and the Knights made sense. But it was their union, which spawned a SAC title, that really planted some seeds of change in the conference about maybe looking elsewhere for coaching. At a time where Fort Wayne hires its own, maybe those changes are needed to keep Fort Wayne relevant in a boys basketball landscape that centers around Indianapolis for a reason. Some of best coaches want to get their start elsewhere for a potential Indy job down the road. Fort Wayne, as the state’s second biggest city, should have that same kind of appeal. Despite that, we don’t see SAC coaches often come from outside our area.
Look down the list to see just that:
Carroll has had one year under Ryan Abbott, who was at Eastside before that.
Concordia last hired Phil Brackmann five seasons ago, but he was a graduate of the school that worked at Concordia when hired.
Bishop Dwenger has had Matt Kostoff for 23 seasons.
North Side’s last hire was Gary Andrews, who had success coaching the high school and college levels in Fort Wayne.
Snider brought in Jeremy Rauch in 2016 to win a SAC title, but he came straight from DeKalb.
South Side hired JJ Foster after his time coaching Bishop Luers.
Wayne hired Byron Pickens from a successful assistant coaching stint at Northrop.
Chris Johnson has been at Homestead since 2000, coming from the same position at Bishop Dwenger.
While Rod Chamble and Northrop were the most unique pairing, his AAU coaching experience with local guys like DJ McCall and VJ Beachem made him very much a familiar face to Fort Wayne hoops.
Fonso White and Bishop Luers was different. The Knights took a gamble on an out of area coach, immediately after their previous out of area coach was a one season flop. It was a big gamble but one that did pay dividends. The Knights were a successful program under Foster, just like under James Blackmon Sr. before him. But when Foster left and the talent was all but dried up, that 1-21 season under Will Hubertz was enough to cripple a program.
White, who had previous head coach experience at Clinton Central, didn’t allow that to happen.
Year one, he rebuilt. Leaning on sophomore Naylon Thompson and singing the praises of the players in the pipeline, he held his stance that the Knights would be successful much sooner than later. He went 4-18, but wins over North Side and Norwell showed some promise.
“The biggest thing was discipline,” White told Outside the Huddle in 2020 about taking over the program. “Discipline with shot selection, discipline when it came to body language. First and foremost, I saw a team that needed a change in those things.”
He pinpointed things he wanted to change immediately and he did. All while having the passion for the program to make a drive from the Indianapolis area daily.
Just one season later, in 2019-2010, White led the Knights to a 15-7 record and a SAC title.
Think about that.
The guy comes in to an area unfamiliar with him, an area he is basically unfamiliar with except some AAU connections and he wins the conference title in the second biggest city in the state. He does it with a burgeoning star in Thompson but also with a dark horse in Demarcus Hudson who’s talent White swore up and down would be a breakout.
Turns out he was right.
And those skeptics of White, the skeptics of whether an outsider could make a difference, they were wrong.
White’s Luers teams tasted 14 wins total the next two seasons, but the stage was already set. Bishop Luers, for lack of a better term, was headed toward dumpster fire territory and Fonso White pulled them out of that. From 1 win the season before he took over to SAC champions two seasons later.
Even in the 14 wins of the last two seasons, White’s teams showed promise. He rebuilt a bit following the SAC title season and was not surprising anyone anymore. Coaches, players and programs had immense respect for him and the Knights and all of the sudden in 2020-21, the target was on the Knights and everyone wanted to beat them. They again topped Norwell, beat a tough New Haven, went to overtime in a loss to Carroll and had eventual Class 3A state runner up Leo heavily on the ropes in a Sectional semi final overtime loss.
Even this past season, fully rebuilding without the elder Thompson in the lineup, White was able to make adjustments and compete. A showcase win over rival Bishop Dwenger was certainly the highlight.
But those records, they don’t matter as much as the main narrative. Somebody from the outside can come in and make a difference in this city. Few have ever. And few schools would ever take that chance. Just look at the list above.
Names are already rumored for who may be up next at Luers and those names are ones you should be familiar with if any of them come to fruition. But the next time a job opens in the SAC, maybe that school’s athletic director should look a different way. It paid off for the Knights because Fonso White made sure their dark ages didn’t last.
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