Michael Potts was fighting for his life when the pandemic shook the world in 2020. Struggling with Covid for months, Potts wasn’t sure if he would ever have another chance to coach his Fresno Wildcats youth basketball team.
“I had Covid from July to October that year,” Potts said. “It was very bad. I didn’t think I was going to make it.”
The Valley coach said he felt depressed as he was forced to stay away from his family, his team and the game he loves while battling the illness in the early stages of the pandemic. Even when Covid restrictions were later lifted, Potts still wasn’t ready to reopen the program.
“Everything got lifted and they started opening things up . . . and me having Covid still, I just wasn’t comfortable with my coaches coaching at that time because of what I was going through,” he said.
When Potts finally recovered from Covid and reopened the program in 2021, many of the young hoopers had already gone to other programs. The Wildcats, who had five teams of various age groups before the pandemic, continued to surge forward despite being left with only two teams.
“We got back to winning tournaments and games, traveling,” Potts said. “We went to L.A., we went to Oakland, we went to Vegas, Arizona. We was traveling quite a bit. And the kids did well.”
The Wildcats program, which consists of elementary and high school students, has come a long way since it was founded in 2014. Potts vividly remembers when his team lost its first game by 50 points in a Los Angeles tournament. The struggle continued in the next game of the tournament when the Wildcats lost by 40 points.
When the team returned home after the tournament, Potts didn’t take it easy on the young athletes. Instead, he took it to another level.
“When we played teams in the Central Valley, we would play up a level,” he said. “So if our kids are sixth grade, we will play seventh grade just to get challenged.”
The persistence eventually paid off. Potts’ team enjoyed one of its early tastes of success when they went to Rocklin in Northern California and won the championship with a 3-0 record.
“From there, we started winning,” Potts said. “We started going to Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose.”
13u handles business on the road.— Wildcats Elite Basketball Program (@FresnoWildcats) November 6, 2023
3-0 🏆 Defense wins Championships! pic.twitter.com/G6CqI7SAWA
Many of the Wildcats young hoopers are now playing on high school teams throughout the Central Valley.
“I can honestly say a majority of our kids, when they come out of middle school, they’re ready for high school basketball,” Potts said. “They’re ready to play either JV or varsity. All our kids are contributors right away.”
Potts’ son, Abram, a junior at San Joaquin Memorial High School, is one of the many hoopers who has sharpened his skills while playing for the Wildcats. The Potts household is also raising two other serious young ballers: 18-year-old Sariah and 10-year-old Malik. But it’s not all about basketball in the home of Michael and Lorraine Potts.
The couple have three other children who are showing off their talent in different ways. The crew of young stars includes Aja Evans, who is a cheerleader. Then there’s Stephen and Jerimyah Crenshaw, who both play football.
Whether it’s at home or on the court, Potts continues to raise the bar as high as possible.
“We’re always looking to play against the top level when we go out of town,” he said. “We’re always looking to play the best brackets. Our coaches love competition, I love competition. The kids love competition. And it’s OK to face adversity. You’re not gonna win every game.”
Through the years, the program has been running as an independent organization and getting support through fundraisers. The next step, Potts said, is to get sponsorship.
“We are looking to apply for the EYCL…it’s a league under the EYBL,” Potts said. “EYBL is kinda like the NBA and EYCL is the G-League. Hopefully we can get in. If not, we’re gonna play in the top independent circuits to get our boys names out there and to get them noticed by coaches.”
While the Wildcats continue to travel as much as possible to get exposure, Potts also hopes to bring major showcase opportunities to the Central Valley.
“Our goal is to invite the top independent programs,” Potts said. “We want the best programs that’s nearby. Whether that’s Stockton, that’s Sacramento, that’s Rocklin, that’s Bakersfield, that’s San Francisco, I want them to come out here and be in our event. And we’ll treat it like a showcase. It won’t be tournament style. It will be showcase games. We can get the local coaches to come and get eyes on these kids and just give them a platform.”
After overcoming a brutal battle with Covid, Potts has become even more hungry to take his program to the next level and to see his young hoopers succeed. The Fresno coach said he doesn’t take any moments for granted after nearly losing his life.
“I felt like I was in a dark space,” Potts said as he reflected on 2020. “I’m a family guy. I couldn’t be around my family, I couldn’t enjoy things with them. I couldn’t go outside with them to shoot the basketball or train them.”
Potts is grateful to once again have the opportunity to take care of his family at home and on the court.
“Everything is heading in the right way,” he said. “I got a great team, coaches. My wife helps with the budgeting and the accounts. It’s just a team effort.”