Alaska can be a chilling place to grow up, but Kamaka Hepa called it home for most of his young life.
Hepa is literally the biggest part of a Jefferson Democrats basketball team that won the 6A state championship in Oregon last season. Portland, Ore. Hepa, a 6-foot-10 senior, made the move from Alaska to Oregon two years ago.
“In Alaska, getting exposure is down,” Hepa said of college recruiting.
The move probably helped. Hepa signed with Texas and will bring his defensive energy and 3-point range to the Longhorns soon enough. He had 16 points and 13 rebounds in Jefferson’s 103-54 win over Kapolei on Saturday night in the opening round of the ‘Iolani Prep Classic.
Jefferson slowed the pace down in the third quarter, and Hepa had a block party, swatting four Kapolei shot attempts in an eight-minute span. Maybe he just felt a little familiar with the environment. His father, Roland, is from Kapaa and moved to Alaska at 20. Hepa’s mother, is Inuit and Caucasian.
He gets his height from his father. Maybe. Roland Hepa is 6-2. They visit home, the Garden Island, occasionally.
“We’re family with the Alapai’s,” he said.
Hepa’s basketball family is aiming high, even as they enter the Classic for the first time.
“We’re the underdogs in this tournament. We play with high energy,” he said.
The intensity level is an expectation of Coach Patrick Strickland. On a night when junior Marcus Tsohonis pumped in 38 points, it was still relentless defense that is a trademark of the Democrats. Robert Ford, their senior point guard, was a menace in the backcourt and mid-court. Strickland says Ford is the player that reminds him of himself most.
“We lost six seniors, two of them our top scorers, to graduation,” Strickland said. “Robert is the glue that keeps us together. He does a lot of little things that win championships.”
That could be said of all the Dems. Khalil Chatman, a 6-8 senior, had 14 points and 11 boards. Ford finished with 15 points, five assist and seven steals. Tsohonis scored 21 of his 38 in the first quarter, but his presence was fully felt on defense, as well. Ford sets the tone.
“I just want to play as hard as I can. I like winning more than I like losing. I play for them,” he said of his teammates. “They’re like family to me.”