It was a daunting challenge to say the least.
Isaac Fotu was tasked with matching up with some of the world’s best players, a veritable NBA All-Star team featuring the likes of James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis.
Fotu and the New Zealand Tall Blacks couldn’t pull the all-time upset in the FIBA World Cup group stage in an ESPN2-televised game on Tuesday, falling 98-71 to Team USA. But in a little over 16 minutes off the bench, Hawaii’s top returnee held his own while being matched up with a wide variety of foes at small forward.
With UH coach Gib Arnold in house at the Bilbao Arena in Spain, The Fro finished with a respectable line of eight points on 3-for-4 shooting (2-for-2 on 3-pointers), two rebounds, one assist and one turnover.
“I think it was cool playing against those guys that you see on TV all the time,” Fotu said in a postgame message. “We would of liked to compete a bit more but we didn’t give up and played our hardest against the best team in the world.”
He was also one of the very few Kiwis to post a positive plus-minus — a plus-four team scoring margin during the time he saw action.
At various times, Fotu was matched up against Klay Thompson, Harden, Irving, DeMarcus Cousins, Kenneth Faried and Rudy Gay. That’s quite the gamut.
“Probably Kenneth (Faried),” Fotu said as to which player was the most memorable to go against. “He’s so athletic and hustles so much that it helps you as a player personally.”
Faried had 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Davis had 21 points as it became a dunk-fest for much of the game for the USA.
UH basketball earned a couple of mentions on the ESPN telecast when Fotu did something positive. The Tall Blacks also performed a pregame haka, which ESPN showed a brief clip of, although Fotu was apparently one of the few players offscreen.
New Zealand dropped to 0-3 after the loss, meaning it is in must-win mode with games against Ukraine and Finland remaining in Group C. It’ll have to win both to have a shot at advancing to the knockout stage.
The plus side for Fotu is that if his team doesn’t advance, he’ll miss less class time at UH.
UPDATE: Here’s ESPN’s video link to New Zealand’s haka as the USA players watched respectfully. Fotu can be seen near the end of the video.
The other Rainbow Warrior connection in the World Cup, Vander Joaquim, saw his Angola team get blown out at the hands of Mexico 79-55 earlier Tuesday.
Joaquim put up tournament highs of 13 points and five rebounds, but shot just 5-for-17 from the field. He played 22 minutes off the bench and tied for team-high scoring honors in the loss.
Angola is 1-2 in the competition and right now is on the outside looking in of Group D.
Ex-‘Bow Jared Dillinger was left off the final 12-man roster for the Philippines, which you wonder about now. Gilas Pilipinas could use some help after dropping to 0-3 in Group B.