A year ago, JJ Mandaquit was entering his freshman season at ‘Iolani.
Then a 6-foot-1, 160-pound guard, Mandaquit went on to earn Star-Advertiser All-State Fab 15 honors, voted No. 3 by coaches and media.
Today, he is one step away from playing for Team USA. Now 6-2 and 180 pounds, Mandaquit is one of 20 players invited to compete for a spot on the USA Basketball Junior (15-under) National Team mini-camp, which began on Friday and ends Monday.
Two years into a busy circuit schedule of camps and club basketball, traveling with the Rose City Rebels, Mandaquit is ramping up even more. The Mandaquit family moved to Herriman, Utah during the summer, enrolling JJ and older sister Jaety at RSL Academy.
He may be the first Hawaii hoopster invited to the national team’s tryouts.
“I was definitely surprised, my dad (Jason Mandaquit) actually got the call and shared the news with me. Fortunately my mom (Coty Mandaquit) was with my dad when the call came in so they both got to share the experience together,” Mandaquit said. “My dad said USA basketball has people at different events and camps who watch for talent so it goes to show that you never know who’s watching. It’s always important to play the right way and do what you can to help your team win.”
The invitation validates his family’s decision to leave a pristine environment in the islands.
“First of all, I’ve been super fortunate to have been given opportunities to play in high level tournaments, leagues, camps and combines that have provided a stage to show I can compete with the best players in the country. As for my game I feel like my biggest strengths are my IQ and my ability to make the game easier for my teammates on both ends of the court. I pride myself on doing the little things,” he said.
He and his sister, a standout basketball and soccer player, already had high-end academic success. They made the move knowing there would be painful sacrifices. Family on Oahu and back home in Hilo won’t be able to see the siblings play as often. The next chapter of JJ Mandaquit’s basketball dream is as challenging and rewarding as he expected.
“As much as I miss my home coming to Utah and being at RSL has been the best thing for me,” Mandaquit said. “We came up a week before school started because my sister’s soccer season was starting but as soon as school started so did basketball. I have team practice to start the day then weight training after school. It took ma a little while to adjust, especially my conditioning.”
RSL Academy has no tuition as a charter school, and is home to state-of-the-art training facilities. The Utah Jazz and Real Salt Lake pro teams train there.
“On top of the team stuff I pretty much have 24-hour access to gyms and weight rooms here, so physically I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I weigh 180 right now, but am hoping to add another five pounds of muscle before the season starts next month. If I grow taller I’ll look to add on some more weight, but I think between 185 and 190 will be a good weight for me to carry at my current height.”
The national team mini-camp also offers another challenge besides the country’s top players.
“I’m really focusing on my conditioning right now. Colorado Springs is at an elevation about a 1,000 feet more then here in Utah, and for me to play at my best at the camp I need to be in the best shape that I can be,” he said.
The daily grind has been self-motivated.
“Days I don’t have weight training, I lift on my own or my dad puts me through a basketball workout in the gym. Everyday after I lift I try to shoot for at least 30 minutes,” Mandaquit said. “As for diet, I haven’t changed much of anything since being here. I don’t drink soda and hardly eat sweets so that helps a lot. Another good thing about being here is that there’s lots of healthy places to eat.”
RSL Academy plays a national schedule. Mandaquit is missing his team’s first action because of the Junior National tryout.
“The following weekend we’ll go to Vegas for a big tournament called the Border League, which is put on by the same people who run the Section 7 tournament. We’ll have a few friendly games after that, then our official schedule starts on Nov. 2. As of now we have over 30 games on our schedule,” he said.
Jaety Mandaquit was voted No. 3 to the girls basketball All-State Fab 15, but hadn’t played school soccer until this fall.
“Jaety is adjusting well to RSL. She is enjoying school and playing high school soccer for the first time. Her team is doing good in region play and will start their postseason in a couple of weeks. She likes her coaches and teammates, who made her feel welcomed and comfortable,” Mandaquit said.
RSL’s post-graduate team brought in former Kahuku standout Amari Westmoreland-Vendiola during the summer. Baldwin’s Quintan Akaka recently arrived in Herriman.
“I see them every day. Our post-grad team practices during the same time as my team. Most days we’ll mix in with them and do live drills against each other to compete. We live about a three-minute walk away from them, so we hang out a lot,” Mandaquit said. “I’m glad they’re here. Not only does it give me comfort to have familiar faces from home here, but I already see them stepping up their game and getting better. Being here will create opportunities for all of us, but I’m excited for the both of them and if they continue to put in the work more doors will continue to open for them.”