Just two years with the program was enough. It was enough to become one of the most polished big men in the conference and the country. It was enough to become one of the most charismatic and well-liked players in recent history. It was enough to establish a cult following in both the Stan Sheriff Center and the social media arena.
Two years was enough to put together a great resume, but it’s also been enough for Isaac Fotu to determine that he’s ready to “pursue a professional basketball career.” With the program currently under an upheaval and a number of his teammates from last year’s 20-win season already off the squad, Fotu decided that enough was enough. After being deemed ineligible for this season, the big man issued a statement on Monday stating his decision to leave the basketball program and forgo his final two seasons at the University of Hawaii.
While it is a huge blow to a program now searching for an identity, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. The recent removal of head coach Gib Arnold and assistant Brandyn Akana knocked UH off course after trending upward since Fotu’s arrival. He alluded to their absences as a reason for his decision.
“I came to Hawaii to play for coach Gib and coach Akana, both were instrumental in me growing as both a person and basketball player,” he said in his statement. “I believe this was going to (be the) best season yet.”
None of the statements coming from UH in recent weeks have given any real indication of the program’s current mindset or thought process. Even interim coach Benjy Taylor seemed unsure of where he stands or what lies ahead.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Taylor said in an interview with KHON. “I don’t know if I’m going to be the head coach. I know I’m the acting head coach but I don’t know what that means, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
“I haven’t been told too much about what’s going on with me, but I’ll just do all I can to make sure these student-athletes are ready to move forward and figure out what’s best for them,” he added
Fotu decided that his best option was to head into the pro ranks, an opportunity he’s had previously but has postponed in order to remain at UH.
“I’ve turned down opportunities to (turn) pro every summer because returning to Hawaii was an easy decision, but now, with the program headed in a different direction, I believe it’s time to chase the professional basketball dream and hopefully help support my family,” he said in his statement.
Fotu leaves UH with career averages of 12.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and a 60 percent shooting clip from the floor. He saw his scoring jump to 14.9 points per game last season as a sophomore, when he started all 31 games and helped the ‘Bows finish with a 20-11 record.
As one of its most visible team members and known for his afro hairstyle and outspoken love of poke bowls on Twitter, Fotu will leave a huge void both on the low block and around Manoa. He fit in seamlessly, immediately adding personality and production from the moment he landed at UH.
“I thank all my teammates (brothers) at UH, and mostly the fans of Rainbow Warrior basketball,” he said. “The people of Hawaii have welcomed me since the day I arrived, and all that aloha made my stay enjoyable. I enjoyed every minute I got to represent the University of Hawaii and I will look back at many wonderful memories.”
His absence will leave senior Garrett Nevels and junior Quincy Smith as the only returning players with significant minutes last season. Nevels started all but one game as a junior college transfer, averaging 13.1 points and shooting 41 percent from three-point range. Smith’s production was more sporadic as he averaged 4.9 points in 17 minutes a night off the bench.
It’s anyone’s guess where the ‘Bows go from here, but there’s no longer any need to guess about Fotu. Hopefully he finds as much success at the professional level as he attained in his short but memorable stint with Hawaii basketball.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.