CJ and the Malachy's boys eye success off the court
To say the last five months have been intense for teenage sensation CJ Fulton would be an understatement and this weekend he will not only be lining out for Belfast Star but also hosting a basketball tournament at St Malachy's College.
As part of their A-level Sports Science studies, Fulton and the other nine members of his class - Lewis McGarvey, Conor Ryan, Mark Donnelly, Ryan Cavanagh, Greg McCormack, Conor McKee, Diarmaid Molloy, Emmet Maguire and Cillian McGarry - chose as their coursework the ambitious task of putting on the Under-15 event over two days, this Saturday and Sunday in the Malachy's gym.
The schoolwork project has coincided with 17-year-old Fulton playing a key role in driving Star to the top of the All-Ireland Superleague, while last weekend he top scored in the club's Under-18 National Cup semi-final success over Dundalk Ravens.
"It's been really crazy keeping everything going and this weekend I won't be able to be at the tournament on the Saturday because Star are away to Maree but I will be there on Sunday," said CJ, who is the vice-chairman of the St Malachy's Supercup tournament, which features Cheshire Phoenix, Dublin side Killester and Scoil Phobail Sliabh Luachra from Kerry.
The chairman of the group is 18-year-old McGarvey, who seems to be equally as busy as CJ as he plays centre-back for Glentoran reserves, while also training with the senior side. Another member, Donnelly, is also showing some football prowess as he lines out for Cliftonville reserves and Ryan is part of Star's successful Under-18 side.
CJ has been enjoying glowing reviews for his performances for Star, a year on from exploding onto the Superleague scene as a 16-year-old when Star hit the summit last Christmas before going on to make the semi-finals of the Cup and the final of the play-offs.
In his final year at Malachy's, he has to keep one eye on his A-levels while also seeking to keep Star at the Superleague summit and in a fortnight's time he will be hoping to lead the Under-18 side to National Cup glory.
"I think the experience of last year has been a big benefit to me. We got to the top of the Superleague and then fell away and I felt myself getting a bit tired so I learned from that and the school and my coaches have been very good in giving me a rest when I need it," added CJ.
"We're in a very good position now and I think these next two games against Maree and Moycullen will be crucial.
"In between we have the Under-18 final and although we'll be underdogs we'll give it everything against Neptune."
As for this weekend's tournament, CJ is quietly confident that his school mates are going to put on a highly enjoyable event that will hopefully see them all receive a top mark in their A-level.
"Basketball is certainly a sport which has been growing in popularity throughout the country. The success of the Belfast Classic and the performance of Belfast Star in the Irish Super League in recent years, in particular, has really helped to promote the sport here in Northern Ireland, so hopefully this tournament can be another example of that," said CJ.
"Of course, the main reason that we are holding this event is for our Sports Science coursework. However, we also want to enhance player development by providing young players with the opportunity to play against better opposition than they may be used to in their local leagues. No A-level group has ever hosted an international-scale event in the school before, so we know it will be a big challenge, but hopefully it will be a great experience for ourselves and all the teams.
"Running these events is also very challenging financially for us, as we have to raise most of the money ourselves through fundraising. We have been very fortunate and thankful to have received sponsorship from individuals and organisations such as BNI, McCotter Agencies and J&F Group. We are also delighted to have the expertise of personnel from Basketball Northern Ireland involved."
Tickets will be available at the door for £2, with all proceeds going to charity. To keep up to date with schedule information and event updates, follow Facebook and Twitter pages @ St Malachy's International Supercup.