Alohair: Tall Black Isaac Fotu a big hit in Hawaii
Isaac Fotu is a big kid with big hair, and an even bigger future.
The latter is the view of his college basketball coach at the University of Hawaii, where he will soon begin his junior year, and also the perception being put forward by his increasingly impressive play for the Tall Blacks at the World Cup in Spain.
Sure, the winless New Zealanders are wedged between a rock and a hard place as they face must-win games to conclude pool play here against the Ukraine and Finland.
But one of the positive aspects of this campaign has been the continued emergence of the 20-year-old 2.03m Aucklander as yet another New Zealander capable of doing some special things at the highest level.
Fotu's college coach Gib Arnold is in Bilbao checking first-hand on the progress of his charge, and was positively glowing with expectation on the back of what he's seeing from a young man who had surpassed all expectations in his first two years on Hawaii.
''He's a perfect fit for Hawaii and we couldn't ask for a better kid from New Zealand,'' Arnold told Fairfax Media.
''He's an absolute king of the island -- they love him. He's on all the billboards, all the posters, people wear his jerseys. We are a pretty big city, one of the biggest in America, with no pro team. So he's the Kobe Bryant, the Kevin Durant of Hawaii.''
What's more, so impressive has the development of the Kiwi youngster been - he was all-conference last year as he averaged 14.9 points and 6.1 rebounds for the Warriors - that Arnold is predicting a future that has NBA potential in it.
''He can be a dominant rebounder, and for how big he is, he's got phenomenal footwork and can put it on the floor.
"I do think his future is going to be at small forward, but regardless of where he's going to be in his career, whether it's in New Zealand or Europe or the NBA, he's the kind of guy who's going to help whichever team he's on for many years,''
Fotu has relished the past two months eating, living and breathing basketball under Nenad Vucinic and feels like he's already a far better player than when he finished his sophomore year at UH.
''It's been great for my game and I've learnt a lot just playing against older, more experienced guys,'' he said.
''It will be a good transition going back for my junior year, and I'm definitely going to be better for it.''
The Rangitoto College product, whose mother is English and father Tongan, says the toughest part of the transition to the highest level of the game has been about the top two inches.
''It's probably just staying locked in mentally, and having to be mentally strong. And the physicality is a lot higher as well. Each game I'm getting more comfortable with playing these guys, and this whole tour and being part of this World Cup has helped my confidence immensely.''
Fotu is very much part of the new generation of Kiwi hoops talent, alongside the likes of Rob Loe and Tai Webster here, and Steven Adams, Jack Salt and Tai Wesley to come.
But it's not the future that concerns the Tall Blacks right now. It's the present.
They have to beat the Ukraine (early tomorrow) and Finland (early Friday) to advance to the knockout stages for the fourth consecutive time.
''We were very disappointed after that last loss [against the Dominican Republic], and we're going to do what we always do, and that's play to win every game we play, because every time we put on that black jersey we all know the importance of it,'' Fotu said.
New Zealand, and Hawaii, waits with bated breath.
Marc Hinton travelled to the World Cup with assistance from Basketball NZ