Fells Understands Fulfillment

Billy Czeck, the boys' basketball coach at Fullerton, might have a difficult time deciding what he appreciates more about Darren Fells, the basketball player or the person.

"He's too good to be true," Czeck said.

Fells is the third brother from his family to play for Czeck, with No. 4 scheduled to arrive next fall.

Fells signed in November to play basketball for UC Irvine even though he had football offers to play tight end at Arizona and Wyoming.

He's 6 feet 7, weighs 256 pounds and possesses the kind of thick, muscular arms that allow him to be a force when battling for rebounds.

He was a two-way standout in football but made the decision to play basketball in college because he felt more comfortable with the sport and didn't want to give up the thrill of dunking a basketball.

That didn't make walking off the football field for the final time last month any easier after a 14-6 Southern Section Division IX semifinal playoff defeat to La Habra.

"It was pretty depressing," he said. "I wanted to go to the championship to have something to remember."

But Fells has left a lasting impression at Fullerton by the way he handles himself on and off the field.

He's the third brother to have a grade-point average of 3.4 or higher at Fullerton. The other two, David and Daniel, went on to UC Davis. Darren's easygoing demeanor enables him to get along with anybody. And he has been adamant about making wise choices to influence his youngest brother, Dwayne, an eighth-grader with excellent athletic skills.

"I think he's better at his age than I was," Fells said. "I try to be a good example for my little brother by doing the right things."

Fells serves as a volunteer assistant coach for his brother's basketball team. "It's hard to control them," he said. "They're young, wild and don't like listening."

Fells' mother, Chandra, tries to attend every athletic event and has been a loyal, unapologetic advocate for her boys.

"If I have a bad game, she's telling me it wasn't that bad," Darren said. "My parents are good people. I love them."

Fells doesn't hide his affection, offering a hug to his father, or a kiss to his mother before and after games.

"That's an everyday thing, all my boys," Chandra said.

The boys even do their own laundry, and they can blame it on the oldest, David, 21, who came home from college one day with lots of dirty clothes.

"I went, 'That's it,' " Chandra said. "I got them their own hampers, put their names on it and said, 'OK, it's all yours.' "

Fells is averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds for Fullerton (17-4).

"He's a very strong kid who's ambidextrous," Czeck said. "He plays hard and has a great attitude. If guys aren't doing well, he picks them up."

Credit parental involvement for putting the Fells boys on the right path to success.

"Mom doesn't go to bed until they're in the house," Chandra said. "[I tell them], 'You know right from wrong, and don't let anyone pressure you into doing something you know is wrong.' I've kept a close watch but also trusted them."

Fells' most embarrassing moment in high school came when he was brought up for the playoffs as a freshman, and the team didn't have shorts big enough for him to wear, so he tried to keep his sweats on to hide the skimpy shorts.

"I played for about 50 seconds, so I had to take them off, and my boxers were actually longer than the shorts," he said.

Asked what he'll remember most about high school, Fells said the friends he has made.

"If I ever feel down after a loss or can't focus because I'm still mad, they cheer me up," he said.

Fells has done his best to cheer up Fullerton football and basketball fans for a memorable four years.


Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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