Fujii leading Analy’s postseason run

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When Max Fujii was younger, he got into the “Men in Black” movies. Hey, a lot of kids did. Will Smith and Tommie Lee Jones are pretty cool in shades, and what could be more fun than blowing up evil aliens? But Fujii’s interest went beyond his schoolmates’. He memorized entire scripts and went around Sebastopol in a black suit.

“I wouldn’t really consider myself an obsessive person,” Fujii said recently.
OK, so what’s just short of obsessive? Attuned? Driven? Focused? Most would agree that Fujii is all of those things, and they are traits that will serve him and his Analy teammates well as they proceed in their attempt to reclaim the North Coast Section Division 3 title that fell from their grasp last year. The Tigers can advance to the championship game with a win at El Cerrito tonight.
Fujii has been something of a local phenomenon since his sophomore season of 2008-09, when the Tigers captured the NCS title and made it all the way to the NorCal final.

“We were a team, and we were looking for someone to kind of take us somewhere,” said former teammate Kevin Aronis, who now plays for SRJC. “He was the guy who stepped up and said, ‘We can do this.’ Max’s role as a leader was pretty natural.”
Fujii could always find the basket, but he had a lot of weapons around him the two previous seasons. This year, with players like Aronis and Isias Alcantar having graduated, the Tigers needed Fujii to become their go-to scorer. He has responded with a 23.4-point average, best in Sonoma County. Fujii is now Analy’s all-time leading scorer, with more than 1,600 points.

Not that the season has been carefree. Analy was at Casa Grande on Feb. 2, a share of the Sonoma County League lead on the line, when Fujii fell hard while taking a charge early in the game. He finished the contest, which Casa won 69-62, but was diagnosed afterward with a severely sprained wrist.

The Tigers lost their next game, to Sonoma Valley, and beat Healdsburg by just a point without their floor leader, and a little later dropped consecutive games to Windsor — one in the regular-season finale, another in the SCL tournament — as Fujii returned to action too soon.

“We knew it would be a hit, but it affected more than scoring,” coach Brett Page said. “Just his leadership ability — we didn’t realize how much that would be missed. He’s not very vocal, but he really controls the game.­.­.­. With Max gone, there was a lack of defensive purpose. We seemed disoriented.”
The good news: Fujii had 27 points, five assists and four steals on Saturday as Analy earned a hard-fought 59-54 win against Campolindo in an NCS quarterfinal. Yes, Mad Max is back, though Page doesn’t believe he’s at 100 percent.

Max Fujii has never been able to walk into a gym and turn heads with his physical prowess. He’s listed at 5-foot-9, and can’t weigh much more than 150 pounds. He falls somewhere between wiry and scrawny.
“We were hoping he’d grow more,” said his mother, Rachel, with a quick laugh. “We feel like we let him down genetically.”
Once on the court, though, Max is fearless, driving into the arms of much taller and broader kids. Fujii plays with a certain fire, but doesn’t let it burn out of control.

“I think it’s his mental toughness,” said Casa Grande coach James Forni, who has coached against Fujii six times over the past three years. “He has the same look on his face the entire game. He can hit the biggest shot in world, and his face will be the same as if he missed. I’d say it’s pretty rare to see a kid that focused.”

According to Rachel, Max tends to lock on to one subject and immerse himself in it. Through most of high school, it has been basketball. When Max got to Analy, some thought he was better at baseball, but he gave up that sport to concentrate on hoops.
The Fujii parents both work at Kaiser Permanente, father Ken as an orthopedic physician and Rachel as a nurse-manager in the emergency department. Max has a GPA over 4.0 and has shown some interest in medicine; for example, he volunteered for a while with another local doctor. So when it came time to fill out college applications this year, his parents suggested maybe he should consider a pre-med track.

His reaction: I can be a doctor anytime. This is my one chance to play basketball.
“Anyone else and I’d have a hard time with it,” Rachel said. “Because it’s him, I know that when he’s ready to focus on that, that’s what he’ll do.”
The third-seeded Tigers will have their hands full with No. 2 El Cerrito, a team that can run and jump like very tall rabbits — as Analy saw at a tournament this year. “We like to run, but those guys made it look like we were walking the ball up the court,” Page said.

There’s no way to know whether Max will come up with one of his signature big games against the Gauchos. His facial expression is more easily predictable: impassive, win or lose.

“I guess in the end, it’s a basketball game, you know?” Fujii reflected. “I’ve lost a lot of games, and I’ve won a lot games. I feel like what’s the point of getting all freaked out when you don’t have to?”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

 


Max Fujii is back at full strength, giving Analy scoring and leadership. Photo by Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat