Fotu, Tall Blacks aim for new heights
ZARAGOZA (2016 Rio Olympics) - There is something undeniable about New Zealand's national team, the Tall Blacks. The Kiwis are on the way up.
Remember their performance in Spain at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, when Corey Webster revealed himself to be among the most explosive players on offense in the international game, and youngsters like Isaac Fotu emerged as key members in the squad?
And there is also that big center in the NBA that everyone continues to talk about, the one that patrols the point for the Oklahoma City Thunder who rubs shoulders on a daily basis with superstars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant? Thunder center Steven Adams is a New Zealander.
What if he finally links up with the Tall Blacks, who will play at one of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQTs) this summer? The bottom line is that New Zealand have serious potential.
I think we can go very far. We have a lot of young talent coming up. We have Tai Wynyard at Kentucky and a lot of guys going to big U.S. schools (universities). We already have the determination and the hustle. That's what we build our pride on. I think with some talent, we'll become a very good team. - Fotu
Success for New Zealand does not hinge on the presence of Adams, a 22-year-old from Rotorua. Yet it's easy to see how a 2.13m center that plays in the toughest league in the world could make the Tall Blacks stronger. Think about the rim protection, the rejections, the dunks.
Adams is very good. Cleveland's LeBron James saw that first hand when the Cavaliers squared off against the Thunder recently.
Fotu understands what Adams's impact would be. He has known him for a long time. They played against each other in junior basketball. But Fotu also knows that Adams left American college basketball after just one season with the Pittsburgh Panthers and that he is still learning the game and putting all of his energy into helping Oklahoma City.
"I knew him growing up, he's the same age as me," Fotu said to FIBA.com. "We always met in the (New Zealand) national final. He always beat me. But we talk sometimes. Everyone talks to him. We'll see. I know he wants to play. Obviously his NBA career comes first and we all understand that."
Something Fotu is looking forward to is making more visits home to New Zealand during the season, which will happen thanks to FIBA's new system of competition.
Over a four-year cycle from 2017 through 2021, national teams will play regular home and away games to qualify for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup and the 2021 FIBA Continental Cups.
I'm definitely looking forward to it. We don't get to play games at home much so my family, our families don't get to see us play much. I think it's huge. Basketball has just started to grow over the last couple of years and hopefully this will help it grow even more. - Fotu
For now, Fotu continues to get a healthy dose of Spanish basketball. When he played at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Bilbao and then Barcelona, Fotu raised a lot of eyebrows.
Isaac Fotu (NZL) shone at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup
CAI Zaragoza signed him after Fotu elected that year to leave the NCAA's Hawaii Rainbows and turn professional.
CAI loaned Fotu to Manresa, another team in the Spanish Liga Endesa, for the 2014-15 campaign. He played a lot, helping the club avoid relegation. CAI called Fotu back to the club this season and he has been logging big minutes.
"It's obviously a very tough league," he said. "It's good to improve. It's such a thinking man's game over here. It's strategic. It's a lot different to college where it's more athletic. Last year I had to adjust quickly and the coach helped me.
"I just want to keep getting better every year and play at the highest level I can. Hopefully in the next couple of years, I can play Euroleague or something."