OSU walk-on to model, seek pro career in Japan
Connor Fulton had planned to graduate from college with a degree in international business and a minor in Japanese. That goal remains the same, but the details have been significantly altered.
A former walk-on with the Ohio State men’s basketball team who was put on scholarship last year during his freshman season, Fulton learned that he would not be afforded the same luxury for the 2018-19 season, as the Buckeyes had bolstered their roster.
As he assessed his situation and his background, a plan began to fall into place.
And so it is that Fulton, a guard who scored one point in four appearances for the Buckeyes last season, has made a fascinating career-path detour to focus on becoming a professional basketball player in Japan.
Fulton, from Salt Lake City, is pursuing Japanese citizenship on account of his maternal grandmother Keiko Prater — nee Yasuda — who was born and raised in Japan. While he begins to navigate the naturalization process, Fulton will play college basketball at Jobu University on a full-ride scholarship while working part time as a model to pay for his cost of living.
“It’s a huge life change, obviously, but in the end I’m really excited, and what it’s going to lead to is really exciting as well,” Fulton said.
It’s an ambitious plan aided greatly by Fulton’s bloodline. In addition to being one-quarter Japanese, Fulton’s father, Chris, spent 15 years coaching basketball overseas in places such as Australia, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan, where Connor Fulton was born.
Chris Fulton’s connections helped make the current scenario possible and also contributed to his son’s comfort level in moving to the other side of the world.
“Life’s a journey, and this is certainly a part of his journey,” Chris Fulton said. “It’s a mature decision, but my wife and I are both very proud of him. It’s not an easy thing to do. To walk away from Ohio State is easier said than done, for sure. It’s a special place and he knows it.”
Professional basketball teams in Japan are limited to three foreign players on their roster and can have no more than two on the court at the same time. Becoming a naturalized Japanese citizen would allow Fulton to bypass that rule.
The process will take several years and require him to live in Japan. To maximize the amount of time possibly spent as a pro player, Fulton will enroll in college and start his naturalization clock. Classes won’t start until April, but he will move to Japan in December to begin acclimating to the culture and breaking down the language barrier.
With the help of the Ohio State coaching staff, Fulton looked into transferring to another Division I school but found that options were limited due to the summer timing of his decision.
“Connor is an outstanding young man,” OSU coach Chris Holtmann said. “He really helped our team in practice last season. We understand returning as a walk-on was going to be difficult for him and his family. We look forward to supporting him and seeing where this move to Japan goes.”
His first trip to his future home took place in late July, and Fulton said it could not have gone better. It started with a trip to a restaurant in the countryside, where his 6-foot-4 frame was immediately recognized.
“I walked in and they were freaking out,” he said. “They knew I was a basketball player, and they had me sign their fridge and they gave me a free meal because they said I looked like a movie star and a pro basketball player.
“They were so nice to me and so welcoming. I had that experience throughout the whole time I was there, taking pictures with people.”
Such experiences bolstered Fulton’s belief that he could work as a part-time model. While in Japan, he said he met with multiple modeling agencies who indicated he could get work as a print model or walking the runway.
“He said all he did was sign autographs and take pictures while he was there,” Chris Fulton said with a laugh. “Even here in the States, when there’s a group of four or five Asian girls and he walks by, they have this reaction. I don’t know what it’s about.”
Ultimately, Fulton hopes to graduate with a college degree and his Japanese citizenship, allowing him to sign with a team in the first division of Japan’s B League. Such a contract could net him $300,000 to $500,000 a year.
Given the level of play in Japan and Fulton’s size advantage as a shooting guard, he said multiple agents have assured him and his family that such a future is possible.
“The money isn’t my No. 1 priority, but I’m thinking further down the line (as) I’m setting myself up for a career,” he said. “It just seemed like the perfect fit for me and the perfect plan.”