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Sunday, 20 January, 2002, 17:06 GMT
Adrian has Star role
By BBC NI Sport's Alvin McCaig
Basketball ace Adrian Fulton may not be a household name but in terms of success he ranks high among Northern Ireland's sporting elite.
The 30-year-old Belfast schoolteacher has a bagful of medals to go along with 58 Ireland caps.
The 5ft 10in point-guard has played top-flight basketball since the age of 15 and remains hungry for further glory with club and country.
That could come this week when Fulton faces three crunch games in four days at home and abroad.
He is also keen to spread the basketball gospel and raise the profile of a sport which for so long has been consigned to the inside pages.
Fulton is currently a leading light for his hometown team SX3 Star (formerly Star of the Sea), which is coached by his father Danny.
Indeed it was his father who inspired his love of the game, while younger brother and junior international Mark has also caught the bug.
The 1997 Player of the Year has won three National Championships and two National League titles with Star - the National Cup has now become the Holy Grail.
"Everything is geared up for the cup and we will be giving our all to beat Waterford in Friday's semi-final in Dublin," he said.
"It's a big ambition to help Star lift the cup and I feel we have the potential to go all the way.
"We still have an outside chance of making the play-offs with a top eight place and we could always do it with a good run."
Fulton has already enjoyed National Cup success but ironically it came during a one-year spell with Killester last season.
He admits to being in inconsistent form in the current campaign but things have taken a turn for the better since November.
This has coincided with Ireland's amazing progress in their bid to qualify for the European Championships in Sweden next year.
Ireland have made it through to the semi-final round for the first time ever and this is some achievement considering the professionalism of the sport on the continent.
Stockholm bars can begin ordering in a few extra kegs of stout if the Irish claim a top-two finish in a group including Cyprus, Bosnia, Macedonia, Germany and Crotia.
It's a daunting task but one that only inspires Fulton.
"Few gave us a chance to get this far but we have already shown that we can compete with the best teams in this group," he said.
"Of course we have a chance of qualifying although we are playing against countries with professional leagues, so the odds are stacked against us.
"We need to win our next two games, first away to Cyprus on Wednesday night and then back in Dublin against Croatia three days later.
"It is a great feeling playing before packed crowds at the National Basketball Arena and they can help us achieve something very special."
Fulton and Killester's Damien Sealy are the only two born and bred Irishmen in the 10-strong European squad, with the rest full-time Irish-Americans.
This begs questions about the quality of home-grown talent and the health of the game in Ireland.
"The main problem is that we have so many sports in such a small country," said Fulton.
"The result for basketball is that it is semi-pro in Ireland but full-time in virtually every other European country.
"Our coverage in the media is not great and something must be done to take the domestic game up another level."
Fulton is playing his part as a physical education teacher at St Malachy's College in the city.
His game developed as a pupil at the Antrim Road school which is renowned for its success at collegiate level.
He is now passing on his wisdom to a growing number of youngsters enthralled by the tactics and technical demands of the sport.
Fulton remains optimistic that basketball can succeed in Ireland and has seen how another American-based sport has managed to win the hearts of the viewing public.
"We need to look at the structure of the game at both school and club level and improve how basketball is marketed," he said.
"This is a great sport and is now being played in many more schools across both communities.
"It's about making this count in the competitive arena and you only have to look at the success of the Belfast Giants ice-hockey team to see what is possible.
"This shows it can be done and I believe we are in a better position that ice-hockey - more kids here are on the court that on the rink.
"Basketball is a sport ready to take-off so it is up to everyone involved within the game to make it happen."
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