Isaac Fotu is a lot like most professional basketball players in Europe. The 23-year-old center watches a lot of Netflix and gets plenty of use from his PlayStation in his vast downtime away from the court. But there are a few things that separate the ratiopharm Ulm big man from the pack, including that he calls New Zealand home.
The fact that Ulm is playing in the 7DAYS EuroCup is actually a major reason Fotu made the jump to Germany on a two-year contract. "Coming to a winning program was definitely something that I wanted," said Fotu, who first played in the EuroCup with Zaragoza in the 2015-16 season. "I remember playing EuroCup two years ago and it was fun. Playing in different countries all around Europe and against different styles."
Though he plays professional basketball and enjoys football, his game of choice on PlayStation is rugby, perhaps because he credits that sport with the reason he even was born. Fotu’s Tonga-born father was playing rugby in New Zealand and touring England with his university team.
"That’s how he met my mother," Fotu explained. “He met my mum and took her back to New Zealand with him. The rest is history. I am definitely thankful for rugby in my life. Without that, I don’t think I would have been here."
Fotu was born in York, England and the family moved New Zealand when he was 7 years old. Growing up in two rugby-mad nations, Fotu played the sport as well. It wasn’t until he was 11 when he took up basketball. He ended up choosing basketball over rugby around age 14.
"It was probably a bit of a strange decision at the time," Fotu said. "Basketball is still not huge now in New Zealand, but it wasn’t big at all at the time back then. I just felt that if I worked on it and concentrated on getting better I could actually improve and actually go somewhere with it."
He made his debut with the Tall Blacks - New Zealand’s senior national team - in 2011 at the Stankovic Cup in Guangzhou, China and became the youngest debutant in the country’s history. Later that summer he won the inaugural 3x3 U18 World Cup in 2011 in Rimini, Italy. "That was one of my fondest basketball memories to date," Fotu said of the 3x3 title.
Fotu has since played at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, the 2015 FIBA Asia Cup and the qualifiers for the 2016 Olympics. Those competitions all came with Fotu donning his trademark afro, which he last cut before the 3x3 tournament in 2011. "It’s kind of been my trademark look," Fotu said of his wild locks.
Another visible trait of Fotu is his collection of tattoos. His first was the Polynesian sleeve back in the magical summer of 2011. He has added tattoos every summer since. "I don’t have a count," he said. Fotu also doesn’t have a favorite.
"I love them all. Maybe the first one. I’ve added to it over the years. It started from my shoulder to about my elbow. It’s gotten longer and longer, and it’s even gone onto my chest. That’s probably one of my favorites. But I like them all." Like parents love all of their children, he is asked: "Yeah, exactly. That’s how it is."
Turns out Fotu is just your average tattooed, afro-wielding, rugby-loving Kiwi playing basketball in Europe.