Tall Black Isaac Fotu shoots for the stars
What a year it's been for Auckland schoolboy hoops sensation Isaac Fotu. First, he scores a development gig with the Breakers, then gets a senior Tall Blacks call-up and next he wins a world title in Italy.
Now, just to show that success really does breed success, he's also got college basketball coaches from the United States literally beating down his door.
Not bad for a 17-year-old Kiwi kid who's the product of a Tongan dad, an English mum and a heck of a lot of hard work. Over the last year the Rangitoto College standout has shed 26kg as he's knuckled down and got serious about a sport that seems to be taking him places.
Fotu, who stands 2.03m and wears size 17 shoes, has been taken under the wing of NZ Breakers Academy coach Judd Flavell and the club's community co-ordinator Lawrence Lianda, both of whom saw the potential in the teenager.
He was named earlier this year as one of three development players on the defending champions' roster for the upcoming 2011-12 Australian NBL season – an impressive for a lad still in his final year at high school.
Then Fotu joined Nenad Vucinic's Tall Blacks team that toured China and Europe, making his international debut during the Stankovic Cup tournament won by the Kiwis.
The sweet-shooting power forward was used sparingly on tour but soaked up every minute he got and thrived in the environment around major stars of the New Zealand game.
"It felt like a dream come true when I was called in," Fotu said of his Tall Blacks experience. "I learned so much."
No sooner had he returned from the Tall Blacks tour than he was off again to represent New Zealand at the world three-on-three youth basketball championships in Rimini, Italy. Fotu was joined by fellow students Tai Webster (Westlake Boys), James Ashby and Reuben Te Rangi (Auckland Grammar) in Italy and in an huge upset they came through and upset the world's best combinations.
They topped their pool with a 6-1 record, then beat the Czech Republic, Serbia and Italy in overtime through knockout play to set up a gold medal match against Bulgaria.
They made the early running in the final but found themselves tied up by the fast-finishing Bulgarians with just seven seconds remaining. Up stepped Fotu, receiving the ball just inside the three-point line and sealing the deal with a dazzling reverse layup.
"I thought we were only going over for the experience – just to make up the numbers," Fotu said of New Zealand's first world title in a Fiba-sanctioned event. "It was pretty unbelievable."
Clearly, he has turned the heads of the people who count, for the family phone has hardly stopped ringing of late. He has already been visited by coaches from Hawaii, St Louis and Utah and yesterday had an Oregan coach watching him play for the Breakers Academy side.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Eastern Washington have been in touch, while a number of others have left messages.
Fotu has set his sights on heading to the States for the 2012-13 season and his mother Jenny said they would soon compile a short-list of colleges before looking at making an NCAA-approved visit. He also must pass an SAT test, which his school is helping him prepare for.
"He's worked hard for it," Jenny said. "Over the last year he's lost 26kg as he's stopped eating all that Tongan food and is now in the gym at least twice a day."
The signs look promising for Fotu, who was born in England but moved to New Zealand when he was seven. Like fellow 17-year-old Steven Adams from Wellington – already committed to the University of Pittsburgh for the 2012-13 season – he's turning his Tongan-English heritage into something pretty special on the basketball court.