There have been many accolades that have flowed the way of CJ Fulton but having a mean streak on the court has not been one of them — until now.
Fulton will be part of the Irish national side who will tomorrow seek to take another giant step forward in their development before a sold-out 3,000 National Basketball Arena in Dublin when the men in green take on Switzerland, live on TG4. Victory by 12 points would see Ireland progress to the next level of qualifying, having lost to the Swiss in the corresponding fixture by 11. Cyprus, beaten twice by Ireland, delivered a huge upset victory over Switzerland on Thursday on the same night Fulton and his team-mates lost to Austria.
The 20-year-old played a key role in Belfast Star’s All Ire;and Superleague 2020 success before heading to the States and over the past 12 months he has been part of the La Fayette College set-up, putting together a string of performances that caught the eye of everyone. That came just after he helped Ireland to victory in the European Small Nations Cup, paving the way to the FIBA EuroBasket quailifiers.
Having returned home to don the Irish shirt again, Fulton is delighted to be playing alongside fellow Star man Conor Quinn, while another clubman Darragh Ferguson is part of the under-20 set-up this summer. Fulton’s scoring prowess and clinical passing have been to the fore for some time but he believes that even after just a year in the States he has added some extra steel to his natural guile and composure.
“I would say that I have developed a more aggressive mindset for games — more switched on for games. The mindset has to be like that in the States and at this level otherwise you will get really punished. That is a big change for me and I would still say that the mindset is a work in progress. It’s not just about being aggressive, you still have to know your place in the system,” said Fulton.
“It was an up and down year with the college and it was tough when we let games slip away and maybe lost four on the bounce. That’s when you have to really dig in. The intensity as a big change because you’re really training like a pro — lifting weights three days a week, training and playing and then also having to keep your college work up to date really tests you.
“It can be very tough because you’re travelling for four or five hours to a game and then the next day you’re up early for classes but working hard like that and being pushed all the time in training by top players around you just makes you a better player. It toughens you up mentally as well… maybe in the past I could have been a bit conservative on the court and played things a little safe but that had to change. Being in the environment where the guys you practice with and play against are such good athletes you know you have to match that physicality.”
Fulton’s rise to become a regular with the senior team was no surprise but it has coincided with a general raising of the bar within the sport. Competition within the All Ireland Superleague has moved to another level, while the national side has also started real excitement as supporters appreciate how they are capable of now competing with many of the bigger nations.
Fulton, whose dad Adrian is the assistant Ireland coach, added: “There’s a real buzz about the national team now, you can feel it. Winning the Small Nations tournament was a big step forward — it was only the second time that Ireland had done it.
“Now we have this big game against Switzerland. In front of a full house I think it’s a great chance for us to put on a big performance and if we could get the win that would be very special.”