Summer 2024

The Lakeshow AAU: Teaching the Fundamentals of Character

The following article is featured in the latest edition of Sports Spectrum. To get a full subscription to the magazine, including it’s online content, click here to subscribe.

In Silicon Valley, it takes a special type of person to not only survive, but to thrive as an industry leader in the business culture there. As President of Worldwide Field Operations with FinancialForce, Joe Fuca has something figured out. Throughout his career, he has compiled over 25 years worth of senior level executive management experience, developing global leadership teams and transforming sales operations within high-growth companies like McAfee, where he served as a member of the executive leadership team for the $1 billion Consumer Division as well as DocuSign, where he established an infrastructure that significantly accelerated the company’s growth.

The high stakes, high pressure, high demand corporate culture of the San Francisco Bay Area takes its toll, burning out many. But Fuca’s not among that number. He’s had practice balancing the pressures and demands of a hectic lifestyle.  

Any of Joe’s childhood friends in Southern California will tell you he was always on the move, especially in high school. He was a three-sport athlete at Crespi High School in Encino, starring on the football, baseball, and basketball teams. As a standout athlete at Crespi, he earned a football scholarship to California Lutheran University, where he carried on that three-sport tradition.

“I went there on a football scholarship, but ended up playing all three sports,” Fuca said. “I played basketball my freshman year and then baseball my sophomore year. Clearly I’m an antsy individual.”

“I didn’t make a lot of friends with my coaches,” he laughed. “I’ve always had a drive and love for multiple sports, but after my sophomore year, I realized I needed to focus more and so I did.”

It didn’t last long.

“While I was at Cal Lutheran,” Fuca said, “I coached the JV basketball team at a local high school. The next year, I coached the JV team at Thousand Oaks High School. Here I was, 20 years old and head-coaching these teams.”

“It was probably not a good thing for a 20-year-old; going to college and head coaching a high school basketball team,” Fuca laughed.

While it may not have been the best idea at the time, the experience was nevertheless preparing Fuca for a future in coaching. It would become the foundation of the yet-to-be-realized Lakeshow, known now as the “SF Bay Area’s premier AAU basketball program.”  

“About 14 years ago, I was in our church and we had some really good athletes,” Fuca said. “I had been coaching youth sports for a while and I said, ‘Maybe it’s time I go back into the high school world,’ and so I took four kids from our church and added a couple of others and we started The Lakeshow. Four of the kids were Christian so it was great, we could pray at practice and before games. The youth pastor at the church was my assistant coach, so that was really cool too.”

And just like that, a couple of youth group kids with a desire to play basketball began something that would grow in ways Fuca never imagined.

Lakeshow 16 AAU team. (Photo Courtesy: Lakeshow Instagram)

Today, The Lakeshow program is made up of several teams each in the 15’s, 16’s, and 17’s age categories. Each team’s roster is built with players who all participate in an invite-only tryout system intended to generate only the “most talented and dedicated players” in a particular age group. The Lakeshow AAU Basketball program boasts “the highest levels of exposure and competition to the Bay Area’s elite players.” The goal, like most AAU programs, is to ultimately get kids on to college rosters with a scholarship.

Perhaps you’ve heard a thing or two about AAU and maybe what you know is the negative stuff; AAU has a reputation for shady recruitment deals, exorbitant amounts of money changing hands, over-the-top egos, and coaches who somehow turn a few months of AAU basketball into full-time jobs. The Lakeshow, though, does not follow this model.

“There are all kinds of stigmas around the money where people are creating AAU programs and living off them,” Fuca said. “I did it purely as a hobby.”

“There are people like us,” Fuca added, “who will raise money and then spend it all on the kids. You’re talking about hotels and food, rental cars, registration for tournaments. . . . We have somewhere between five and seven teams going during that period, so somewhere between 50 and 70 kids.”

“The only rules around AAU are basically, there aren’t many rules,” Fuca said. “But there is a whole other regimented level of AAU that’s NCAA certified. That’s what we do. We try to play in NCAA-sanctioned events so that we can get our kids exposure and put them in a college setting so they can be seen by college coaches,” he added.

For Fuca, it’s ultimately all about the kids who—between March 1st and July 30th—call The Lakeshow family.

The Lakeshow program was built for them; to provide them the opportunity to compete at a high level, to test themselves against elite competition, and to earn a chance to continue their playing career at the college level.

Fuca’s coaching style was being formed well before the idea for The Lakeshow ever occurred to him, even before he was a three-sport athlete in college and in high school prior to that.

“I went to John Wooden’s camp when I was 11 years old,” he said. “The man spent 20 minutes explaining how to put your socks on!”

“He was an amazing man,” Fuca added. “I’ve read his books and others by Dean Smith and I had some of both coaches’ former players help me the first two years of The Lakeshow. They walked me through some of their plays and sets, because there’s only so much you can read in a book.”

But for Fuca, coaching has much deeper purposes; it goes beyond the X’s and O’s, and it’s much more than the plays and sets.

“For both Wooden and Smith, coaching is more about being a father-like figure and helping young men with life decisions than it is about the actual play on the court,” Fuca said. “And that’s a big deal because we travel with the kids too. That’s important to me.”

“John Wooden was a big deal,” Fuca emphasized. “Not only did I go to his camp, but his big thing was about respect and honor. There’s a whole pyramid of success there that’s such a good life skill, so we try to do that. I want every restaurant owner and every hotel owner to know who we are by the way we respect their people and that all comes back to John Wooden.”

There are a lot of positive effects that come with establishing your program on principles of respect and honor—with building a program that closely models family. Elite youth basketball—nowadays, youth sport in general—is too often known for its ego and individualism. The “team-first” attitudes of yesterday are often replaced today by “me-first” attitudes. The culture of sport appears to have shifted and yet Fuca continues to rely on the foundational principles of coaches like Wooden and Smith.

“You have to get across the message that playing together and winning is the best thing you can show any college coach that’s recruiting you,” Fuca said. “We were always known as the team that didn’t get the best players; we just got the best young men, and there’s a big difference. We’ve got 150 young men that have been through our program and have received scholarships to college—whether that was Division I, II, or III—and of those 150, they range from kids who might have a shot to play professionally to those that might not.”

“I think the whole AAU stigma of individualism and ego. . . . Because we preach ‘play together, win, and you’ll show your skill,’ we’ve created this unique family environment,” Fuca added. “So now all of a sudden, all these kids are developing lifelong relationships with other Lakeshow kids that they’ve played with. It’s just a by-product of the family nature, and what happens is they all stay connected. Those are by-products of what’s going on within the program that I didn’t foresee. If you let the game come to you and win as a team, all of a sudden, the consequence of that ends up being that you become not only really good teammates, but friends.”

The culture of respect doesn’t just end with teammates either. It’s a value that pays dividends at the next level too.  

“I think how they respect their coach in The Lakeshow ends up being a really good model for how to respect their coach in college,” Fuca said. “College basketball is a very different game, because college coaches don’t necessarily have personal relationships with kids. We usually do because we travel with them. It’s a little more of a big brother or father figure relationship and we try to maintain communication with them when they’re in college. My hope is that their key takeaways are the camaraderie they build with their teammates as well as the respect they maintain for their coach.”

Fuca has recently—perhaps even against his nature—started to scale back. He’s handed The Lakeshow program over to his oldest son, Joey, an excellent basketball player in his own right. Joey was an NCS Champion in 2005 at San Ramon Valley High School, then went on to become an NAIA All-American at Master’s University before spending two seasons playing professionally in Germany. Now, the elder Fuca spends much of his time serving on the senior team, allowing Joey and some younger coaches to take the program’s reins. Now, he often finds himself coaching the coaches.

“I’ve told my coaches that you’ve got to teach principles and fundamentals and then let the players perform on the court,” Fuca said. “Don’t over-coach them because that’s when kids lose their creativity and innovation.”

“Really, the key thing is to coach them up and let them play and compete,” he added. “Don’t over-do it when it comes to competing for them because the kids have to perform. You can’t hold their hand.”

Joe Fuca never realized just how big The Lakeshow would become. He certainly had no idea back at Cal Lutheran that he’d one day found a premier AAU basketball program. He was just a 20-year-old staying busy by doing something he loved. But he understands that something special has occurred over the past 14 years; it’s something in which he takes the right kind of pride.

“I’m most proud of the relationships that we’ve built,” Fuca said. “Over this 14-year period, so many families have stayed connected to the program, and I’m most proud when those families still come to games and continue to support the program. There’s probably 25 percent of the kids in our program now that came here on references from families that had kids play in the program previously. It’s a really neat thing that those references come from the families. That makes me really proud.”

And just like that, the family keeps growing.

-Josh Battle