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Kamaka Hepa makes Team USA basketball squad

  • Author: Beth Bragg
    | Sports
  • Updated: June 6, 2018
  • Published June 5, 2018

Kamaka Hepa celebrates his Jefferson High School team’s play in front of a capacity crowd at the Oregon school in February. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Kamaka Hepa has been a Whaler, a Democrat and will soon be a Longhorn. But the next time he plays basketball, he'll simply be an American.

Hepa, a 6-foot-9 forward from Utqiagvik, will don a Team USA jersey for an international tournament later this month as a member of the U.S. men's U18 national team.

Hepa was one of 12 players named to the team, selected from a pool of 33 players who competed for roster spots at a weeklong tryout camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

He and his new teammates will be going for Team USA's fifth straight gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship next week in Canada.

"Beyond blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of the USA U18 National Team," Hepa wrote on Twitter. "(T)hankful for the people who supported me throughout this process."

Hepa had to survive two rounds of cuts to make the team. Last week, he was among 18 finalists chosen to stay at the camp for two more days of training. He and his new teammates will head to Canada on Thursday for the U18 championships in St. Catharines, Ontario.

"It was tough getting it to 12," Bill Self, the Kansas Jayhawks coach who is leading the U18 team, said in a press release from Team USA. "It was tough getting it from 33 to 18, but even with the 18 we've had a couple of extra days with and know how committed they all are to trying to make the team, knowing that different guys look better on different days and in different situations, it was tough getting to 12 because there are a lot of interchangeable parts.

"I think the committee made some good selections, and I'm excited about working with this group. One of the things I think they bring to the table is versatility. They're very interchangeable. I can see us playing four little guards around a big. I could see us playing two bigs, two little guards and a three. I think this team has some different things they'll be able to do, depending on how we stack up against our opponents.

"The other thing, and this goes for all 18 guys, the appearance is that they really like each other. The appearance is that they'll be a fun group to spend two weeks with, which obviously is very important to teams being successful, of guys understanding that some days it might not be their day, it might be somebody else's day."

The camp was the first national-team experience for Hepa.

He joins the national team after two years of high school basketball in Alaska followed by two in Oregon. Next fall, he'll play Division I basketball at the University of Texas.

Hepa led the Barrow Whalers to Alaska state championships as a freshman and sophomore before moving to Oregon to play high school hoops at a higher level. He led Portland's Jefferson Democrats to an Oregon state title his junior season and a runner-up finish his senior season.

Hepa was Alaska's Gatorade Player of the Year twice and Oregon's Gatorade Player of the Year once.

Joining him on the national team are Cole Anthony (Archbishop Molloy H.S./Briarwood, New York); Armando Bacot (Trinity Episcopal School/Richmond, Virginia); Ayo Dosunmu (Morgan Park H.S./Chicago, Illinois); Quentin Grimes (College Park H.S./The Woodlands, Texas); Matthew Hurt (John Marshall H.S./Rochester, Minnesota); Trayce Jackson-Davis (Center Grove H.S./Greenwood, Indiana); Josiah James (Porter-Gaud School/Charleston, South Carolina); Tyrese Maxey (South Garland H.S./Dallas, Texas); Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Bishop Miege H.S./Shawnee Mission, Kansas); Mark Watts Jr. (Old Redford Academy/Detroit, Michigan); and Coby White (Greenfield H.S./Goldsboro, North Carolina).

The Americans will compete in pool-play games Sunday (Dominican Republic), Monday (Panama) and Tuesday (Puerto Rico). The other pool features Canada, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the Jefferson High School mascot. 

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