Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

Avea and Hepa chosen as Warrior co-captains

Photo graphic courtesy www.hawaiiathletics.com

Hawai’i’s 2022-23 men’s basketball team will be led by two players with strong Hawaiian roots. That was made official last Wednesday when seniors Samuta Avea and Kamaka Hepa were named co-captains after a players’ vote. 

Avea, now in his sixth year in the program (including the bonus COVID year), is from Hau’ula and graduated from Kahuku High School. Hepa grew up in Alaska, but his father is from Hawai’i and he has several relatives in the islands. 

“Leadership is a big part of our program, you heard the old cliche, ‘You’re only as good as your senior leadership,’ ” UH coach Eran Ganot said, moments after announcing the voting results to the team on Oct. 12. “We’ve had great leadership over the years, great captains … (Avea and Hepa) have obviously been here, and it’s an added advantage when you have some roots here. They’re very invested in our program, they’ve had their fingerprints over our program.”

Hepa, who transferred to Hawai’i two summers ago after three years at Texas, was honored with the same role last season as a newcomer along with Princeton transfer Jerome Desrosiers. Avea sat out last season as a medical redshirt, after undergoing back surgery following an opt-out COVID season in 2020-21.

“For Samuta, it’s Year 6, and I’ve always talked about (him as) one of the elite guys in terms of the time he has put into the gym,” Ganot said. “It’s really impressive for (the other) guys to see someone like that.

“And how impressive was it for Jerome and Kamaka to be voted (co-)captains in their first year with the program? That was a credit to them. In this situation, for Samuta to be voted by his peers as captain, while he’s missed time, is a credit to him. You could always go the other way (being injured), but he was engaged on the sideline, he’s really good at bringing the team together. Obviously he’s invested here, it’s important to him.”

Hepa impressed Ganot immediately with his leadership skills prior to last season, and has solidified that trust over the past year. 

“(In) Kamaka, I think we have one of the elite leaders/captains in the country,” Ganot said. “I really believe that, because of the totality — we’re talking on the court, off the court, in the classroom, being vocal. Now he’s had a year under his belt, playing a significant role, and he’s just taken off. So it’s a great luxury to have a guy like that …

“Congratulations to those two, we don’t take that position lightly, and I don’t think they will, either. There’s a 24/7 responsibility that comes with that, it’s more than what’s on the floor. At the same time, they can set the table and show the way it’s gonna be for the future leaders who are currently in our program. It’s gonna be a shared responsibility, but it will start with those two.”

When official practice opened on Sept. 30, both Avea and Hepa spoke about the “hunger” to surpass last season’s achievements, which included a third-place finish in the Big West Conference standings and also reaching the semifinals of the league tournament in Henderson, Nev., where the Warriors fell to Cal State Fullerton.

“I still felt the loss in (Las) Vegas the same way they did, in a way,” Avea said. “It was a different perspective, but (it) definitely fired me up, for sure … I’m really tired of rehabbing, I’m over rehabbing, I’m past healing and all that. I’m just ready to play.”

Last year was a breakthrough year in Hepa’s career, finally earning a starting position after mostly riding the bench at Texas. It also left him yearning for more.

“It was big-time, and that’s where I think I really had to grow and be comfortable being uncomfortable with the fact that I had to (start),” Hepa said. “Last year was a big step for me in terms of kind of adjusting to it, and I think this year I’ll be really able to capitalize on that. Particularly, I really wanted to get my body right, being in elite shape, getting stronger and just being more of an athlete. I really put that in the front of my mind, and then also being somebody that I feel the team can run the offense through, and then just talking with (Ganot), I think we’re all on the same page with that.”

Off the court, Hepa said personally connecting with his Hawai’i roots has helped to confirm that his decision to transfer from Texas was a solid one.

“It’s been tremendous, I mean, this past year of my life has been one of the best years of my life, for sure,” Hepa said. “Regardless of all the ups and downs we have had, I think the relationships that I’ve been able to establish have been great. One, I’ve been able to get closer (to Hawai’i), and to be able to experience what my dad’s life was like growing up, and then also two, to be able to develop a family of my own out here, with my teammates, my coaches and the friends that I’ve been able to create.” 

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