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Grant Chapman: 'Fro-tu' riding high in Honolulu

opinion

By Grant Chapman

Published: 11:22AM Thursday January 10, 2013 Source: ONE Sport

This time last year, Kiwi hoops fans - and many in other parts of the world - were beside themselves with the NBA promise of Steve Adams, as he left to take up a scholarship at the University of Pittsburgh.

There was even talk he would spend just one year at school, before heading for the professional ranks and certain selection near the top of the draft.

But while the brother of a certain Olympic shot put champion has largely struggled to live up to that hype, another local has exploded on the US college landscape for more than just his distinctive grooming.

And perhaps we should have seen it coming.

Although Adams has yet to pull on a Tall Blacks singlet, forward Isaac Fotu has already played for the national men's team as a teenager. He's already taken the court for the NZ Breakers.

He probably could have chosen to attend any number of higher-ranked universities across the United States, but elected to stay close to home at the University of Hawaii, where he has relatives living nearby.

Not only has Fotu (2.03m) been a revelation on the court, where he recently had 29 points in a buzzer-beating home win over Cal State Fullerton, he has quickly developed a cult following with his swashbuckling style of play and his massive afro hairstyle, earning the nickname "Fro-tu".

In 14 games, the freshman has averaged 11.3 points and 7.4 rebounds, shooting 65% from the field - many of his baskets are dunks.

Now, attending a US college used to be one of the few pathways open to young Kiwi basketball players to raise their game to the next level, but that route was always fraught with danger. It's so easy to land in an environment that doesn't suit you or where the programme just chews you up and spits you out.

Ask Tall Blacks and Breakers star Tom Abercrombie, who almost gave the sport up after two years at Washington State University.

But Fotu is riding a nice wave in Honolulu, where the Rainbow Warriors are off to their best start (9-5) in a decade and currently sit atop the Big West conference. Off the court, the men's basketball team has even achieved its highest study grades in 12 years.

The Big West is not exactly the springboard to an NBA career for Fotu. Sacramento Kings drafted guard Orlando Johnson in the second round from UC Santa Barbara last year, but the last time a player from that competition went in the first round was Pacific centre Michael Olowokandi in 1998.

Olowokandi was picked up by the Clippers with their No 1 pick and quickly became part of that franchise's history of under-achievement.

But Fotu's development through the Breakers system means he's sure to feature prominently in their future when his college career is over.

Meanwhile, Adams' progress in the Big East - a comparative breeding ground for NBA prospects - has been more measured. That's not to say he won't eventually end up in the NBA, but any thoughts of getting there soon may have to be tempered.

After 16 games, he's averaging 6.8 points and 6.1 rebounds, shooting 60% from the field. He leads the Panthers in rebounding and blocks (1.8), but after every outing, coach Jamie Dixon is forced to explain why Adams isn't the dominant player everyone expected after he starred at the 2011 adidas Nations camp in Chicago.

"If NBA scouts had been allowed to be in attendance this week at adidas Nations, the buzz around this kid would be out of control right now," reported Aran Smith of nbadraft.net at the time.

More recently, it has become apparent to the world that the seven-footer (2.13m) is much better defensively than offensively (which most Kiwi coaches could have told you already) and his game needs considerable polish before moving to the pro ranks.

Adams is already a success story. Plucked from the mean streets of Rotorua, where he was headed down a path to no good, it's a miracle that he has gotten this far, and a testament to people like coach Kenny McFadden and foster mother Blossom Cameron, who have transformed him into a potential superstar.

But everyone involved may just need a little more patience and, luckily, Dixon seems to realise that.

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