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The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

From Éire to here, basketball’s CJ Fulton fits in

Sophomore guard CJ Fulton is a key member of the basketball team with an interesting playing history and optimistic view on the Leopards’ future. (Photo courtesy of CJ Fulton ’25)

When sophomore guard CJ Fulton notched his first points of the Patriot League quarterfinal this month – an early three-pointer off of a tight screen on the right side – he kicked off a 10-0 run for the Leopards, cementing a lead they would maintain for the remainder of their victory over Lehigh. 

This performance against Lehigh was Fulton’s last of a standout season in which he posted career highs in points, rebounds and assists – one chapter in an already long basketball career for someone so young. 

His story began overseas. The Belfast-born ball handler comes from a family of high-profile Irish athletes. 

“I grew up playing basketball because my dad played on the Irish team,” Fulton said. “My grandad coached the Irish national team. We’re a pretty big sporting family.”

This was an understatement, given that his great-grandfather played soccer for Great Britain in the 1936 Olympics. 

Fulton came to Lafayette with a combination of experience and success at the high school and club level, and with the Irish senior men’s National Team. 

Playing for this team, as well as his old club team Belfast Star, Fulton was able to compete with men much older and bigger than those that other U.S. collegiate athletes typically face.

“It’s a semi-pro league, so you’ve got a lot of Irish guys – could be young guys like me, older guys who played in college, or just guys who are based at home and still playing at a pretty good level,” Fulton said. “That definitely helped me prepare for coming over here.”

Standing out among Fulton’s many pre-collegiate accomplishments are championships in the Irish Super League and the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries.

Fulton continued to collect awards upon his arrival in Easton. Last year, he made the Patriot League All-Rookie team, and this year he was named to the All-Patriot League third team and the academic All-Patriot League team.

While he was impactful as soon as he donned the maroon and white, Fulton has had to adjust his game since his arrival. 

“Last year, my role was certainly more of a distributor,” he said. “This year, the way our team has shaped up, I’ve tried to be more aggressive. I’ve been looking to score as well. It’s an adjustment, knowing what it takes to be at your best every game and try to perform.”

The Leopards have needed Fulton’s production, and they’ve needed him to fit in with ball-handling wings like classmate Josh Rivera and senior Leo O’Boyle. Embracing that role, Fulton this year averaged five assists and two steals – both team highs – as well as 5.1 rebounds and 10.4 points. 

His scoring has taken a leap from last year when he averaged 7.3 per game. Always a good shooter outside the arc – 39 percent from three this year – he has become more focused on getting into the paint as well.

The ability to do both is the crux of Fulton’s game. Coming down the court, he’ll usually do one of two things: take a run at his defender or try to exploit a ball screen set by a center. 

He’s quick on the drive and often beats his man. If secondary coverage is slow, he’ll take it to the tin. If the defenders get there first, he’ll kick it out to one of the team’s many shooters.

Fulton noted that ball screens have become an important part of his game and the Leopards’ offense. Here’s how it works: Fulton starts a two-man set with a big man (usually classmate Justin Vander Baan) as a screener. The screener pins Fulton’s defender inside the three-point line, and Fulton gets an open look to splash the triple.

That is exactly what happened at the beginning of the quarterfinal against Lehigh. After a dominant Lafayette performance, the Leopards went on to the semifinals, where they beat American University in overtime at home. When O’Boyle hit a corner three to send the game to overtime, the crowd went ballistic – and stormed the court when the win was secured. 

“I’ve never seen Kirby like that, like in the semifinal,” Fulton recalled. “Crazy.” 

Sadly, Fulton watched the commotion from the sidelines. A lung injury – pneumothorax – incurred before the postseason had returned in the final minutes of the quarterfinal, making that game his only outing this postseason. After surgery next week, he should be able to return to basketball in about a month.

When he does, he has the Eurobasket 2025 qualifiers to look forward to this summer, when he’ll again play for the Irish national team. And while they aren’t at the “Luka or Giannis level,” they’re “still a pretty good level,” he said. 

As for the future of the Lafayette team – about to lose a key player to graduation, and maybe facing transfers and coaching changes as well – Fulton is optimistic.

“It just depends on who’s going to be here,” he said. “We have a chance to build the momentum we had going to the playoffs, and that playoff experience will definitely help us going forward.”

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    Dave SMar 24, 2023 at 11:43 am

    I was on campus for a women’s basketball game when I met CJ. He was nice enough to chat with me for a few minutes. Besides being a great player to watch, her certainly seems like a very fine person.

    Dave ’81