By Ayesha K. Mustafaa,
The Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference (MACCC) named Yusef Fitzgerald the Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year for 2021. Fitzgerald is the head men’s basketball coach at Hinds Community College at Utica (HCCC-Utica) since 2017. He is a 2008 Tougaloo College graduate with a bachelor’s in science and psychology.
Fitzgerald’s abilities that make him an outstanding coach are summed up by Jonathan Nevol, the HCCC assistant basketball coach, when he said, “Yusef did a great job in developing confidence in his players.”
Nevol added, “We won a bunch of close games this season, and we won those games by putting players in situations where they could be successful. Hinds led the conference in scoring and had the player of the year under his fourth season.”
“To be Coach of the Year was the result of having back to back winning seasons and back to back semi-final appearances in the Region playoffs,” explained Nevol, who has known Fitzgerald for seven years.
They began working together in 2014 and Nevol says that Fitzgerald has not only made him a better coach but also a better man. He says as a great example to the young men, Fitzgerald has never been afraid to share his story of life’s challenges.
Jordan Johnson is Conference Player of the Year and has played under Fitzgerald for two years. He says Fitzgerald’s strong points include building confidence in the players.
Johnson adds, “He’s a ‘player’s coach’ and knows how to handle any situation that comes to him. He helped me realize that as long as you have the right people around you, anything is possible.”
Attending as many of Fitzgerald’s games as possible is his mother, Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald. “I could not be more proud of Yusef, as a mother and a child advocate,” she says. “His receiving the 2021 MS Community College Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year Award is the result of a lot of time and work he has invested in the young men of the Hinds Community College Men’s Basketball team.
“Winning games is a priority – however helping these young men find their path in life was and is the most important thing for him. For that I am most impressed.”
Fitzgerald is known for recruiting and developing high level talent, with increased community awareness and campus engagement. He is committed to the professional and personal development of his staff.
Fitzgerald knows this game and is passionate about winning.
“Winninng this award is a testament to my God and the work my staff and players put in this year. This award is fulfilling because it gives cofirmtion that you’re doing things the right way. It’s been a long road getting here and I’m blessed beyond measure,” Fitzgerald said.
In just four seasons, he increased the winning percentage of his team by 19 percent. He also has coached six All State South Selections for the years 2019, 2020 and 2021. He earned back to back playoff births for the first time in over a decade and defeated MS Gulf Coast and swept Jones College for the first time in over a decade.
Before coming to Utica, he was director of operations at Iona College, and before then, the assistant coach at Jones County Junior College.
During his high school years at Piney Woods School, he was a two-year Letter winner.
He is a member of the MS Association of Coaches and the Minority Coaches Association of Georgia as a lead panelist.
Follow him on Twitter @YUSEFJCKSNHINDS and Instagram @SEFR22.