5 Sep 2019

Sport: Issac Fotu inspiring Pasifika youth

6:39 pm on 5 September 2019

New Zealand basketballer Issac Fotu wants to set an example for future generations of Pacific Island kids who harbour dreams of making a career in the hoops game.

Tall Blacks forward Issac Fotu leaps for the ball against Korea.

Tall Blacks forward Issac Fotu leaps for the ball against Korea. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The 25-year-old Fotu was born in York, England to an English mother and Tongan father before the family moved to New Zealand when he was seven.

Growing up in Auckland, he used to love watching NBA games on ESPN and became inspired to take up the sport himself after seeing New Zealand basketball legend Mika Vukona playing for the Breakers.

"That's what drew me in - I saw an island boy playing basketball with his physical style and I said hopefully I can play that as well and play the same way as him," he said.

"He was a reason that I started playing basketball as well and hopefully Shea (Ili) and I can be a reason that other Pacific Island kids want to play basketball."

The 203cm power forward is part of the Tall Blacks squad currently competing at the Basketball World Cup in China.

"I think a lot of young Pacific Island kids are starting to play basketball instead of rugby so that's good to see and hopefully this just adds to them wanting to play basketball," he said.

"And hopefully we will have a new string of Pacific Island kids growing up playing basketball and hopefully getting to represent New Zealand at the next level."

Fotu's dad was a former professional rugby player and the Universo Treviso big man said growing up, Pacific Island kids were often pressured into playing the 15-a-side game.

Tall Blacks captain Mika Vukona.

New Zealand teammate Mika Vukona, who missed the World Cup through injury, inspired Issac Fotu to take up the sport. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"That's what I grew up playing and I think that's why he wanted one of us kids to play (rugby) but we're all basketballers now but he definitely pushed me to play growing up," he said.

"I think it's good playing multiple sports growing up - I think that's what added to me being successful as well - but obviously I think a lot of Pacific Island fathers want their kids to play rugby but hopefully that kind of changes now with the success of Steven Adams and other players at the basketball level."

Fotu, who impressed with 20 points, seven rebounds and two assists in New Zealand's victory over Montenegro on Tuesday, hopes that his experience and the success of fellow Pacific Islanders like Ili and Adams can inspire more people to consider basketball as a viable career option.

Steven Adams

OKC Thunder center Steven Adams is another New Zealander of Tongan descent making waves in the basketball world. Photo: Photosport

"Hopefully they see us and how we're doing. Shea is killing it in the Australian NBL, Steven is over in American killing it in the NBA and I'm over doing my thing in Europe so hopefully they see the different paths there are and all the doors it opens, so hopefully they can do that themselves in the future."

"No-one looks like me in the basketball world in Europe so it's definitely cool, definitely a new unique experience and it's awesome getting to see all these different countries," he said. "I've already played in three different countries in Europe at the age of 25 so just blessed to be able to do that."

Fotu and the Tall Blacks are back in action tonight at the Basketball World Cup, needing to beat a Greece team led by NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to qualify for the second round.

Tall Blacks Issac Fotu