Two things are expected from an athletic young man growing up in Hauula — to play football for Red Raider Nation and to jump from Laie Point.
Samuta Avea was a sophomore wideout for Kahuku High School, but he will not admit to making the 30- to 40-foot jump into the North Shore waters. What is known is he took a leap of faith to move to Utah for a year to develop his basketball skills.
“It was hard, family wise and stuff,” Avea said of his decision to spend his junior year in South Jordan, Utah, attending Bingham High and playing for the Exum Elite Utah Prospects AAU team. “But I knew home would always be here. It was really just for basketball. It was hard for my father. He didn’t want to see me off. He called me on the phone and told me to work hard. It was a sad moment.”
At 6 feet 6, Avea had a height advantage over many Hawaii opponents. In Utah, he faced tall players with dart-accurate shots and ambidextrous ball- handling skills. “I started to work on my shot a lot more in Utah,” Avea said.
Avea’s well-rounded game led to a full-circle scenario. Hawaii coach Eran Ganot offered Avea a basketball scholarship. Avea, who would return to Kahuku for his senior year, became the Rainbow Warriors’ first player from a Hawaii public school to earn a scholarship since Julian Sensley in 2003. Sensley attended Kalaheo High for three years before transferring to a school in Connecticut for his senior season, then spent another year at a junior college.
“Once I heard the scholarship was there and I had a chance to be on the team, I don’t know how to explain it … it was cool,” Avea said. “Home wanted me.”
He said it had been a dream school since his hanabata days of playing on Laie Park’s asphalt courts.
“Sometimes there would be a part of a nail in a hoop, and sometimes it would be raining,” Avea recalled. “It wasn’t the best place to be playing, but it was all we had. I remember those days, getting excited for every Saturday to come around and play with my friends and run down the court. It was fun.”
He also used to practice into the night, shooting jumpers in the family driveway.
That shot, which became smoother during the year in Utah, has been a work in progress. This summer, he refined it again, this time with a different release point. He also has spent time on footwork drills.
“I’m nowhere (near) the shooter I want to become,” Avea said.
But after gaining 10 pounds of muscle, he has expanded his game from the wing. He now can slash from the perimeter and set up in the post. There are lineups in which Avea can be used as a power forward. Best of all, he said, his family has purchased season tickets. “I get to look up and see them at every game,” Avea said.
NO. PLAYER CL HT WT HOMETOWN
4 Brandon Thomas Jr. 6-4 190 Woodland Hills, Calif.
The skinny: Gained 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason
20 Zoar Nedd Fr. 6-5 210 Kapolei
The skinny: Walk-on was a two-time All-State player
32 Samuta Avea So. 6-6 195 Hauula
The skinny: Improved on ball-screen drives, outside shot
42 Justin Hemsley Fr. 6-5 190 Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
The skinny: Improved his drives during redshirt year
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