Former Kahuku all-state hoopster Leiah Naeata chasing dream in Las Vegas

Facing the prospect of no summer basketball, Leiah Naeata (third from right) moved to Las Vegas on July 4 and joined the Las Vegas Storm club team. She is enrolled at Palo Verde High School. Photo courtesy of Leiah Naeata.

To pursue her dream, Leiah Naeata had to make a heartbreaking decision.

The Kahuku senior relocated to Las Vegas. The two-time Star-Advertiser All-State Fab 15 basketball selection flew to the “ninth island” on Independence Day and has never looked back. She has been busy playing non-stop for the Las Vegas Storm club program and is attending Palo Verde High School.

“I’m feeling great,” she said on Tuesday afternoon. “I just told my close friends and teammates. They understand. It’s just hard (in Hawaii) being a basketball player.”


Naeata averaged 12 points per game last season, often posting double-doubles while playing point guard on offense and center on defense. She was voted by coaches and media No. 6 in the Fab 15. As one of Hawaii’s premier hoopsters, she was certainly one of the most versatile as a junior. She was prepared to lead Kahuku as a senior, but the COVID-19 pandemic changed the location and trajectory of her career on the hardwood.

Locally, there is a dearth of playing opportunities in the offseason. Leagues that offer varsity girls divisions often cancel because of a lack of interest from schools and clubs. The lockdown on Oahu made it difficult for hoopsters to get drills and reps as parks were locked up.

“I think the month before I moved, I decided. It was a hard decision for me and my family. I’ve gotten way more exposure here than I did in Hawaii,” she said. “It first started happening when quarantine started happening, when my (808 Basketball) club coaches, Hinano (Higa) and Bobby (Keanini) told our team there wasn’t going to be any traveling. I was shocked.”

Often, island players get their first serious looks from college coaches in Las Vegas and tournaments like the End of the Trail Tournament in Oregon. The EOT was cancelled, but basketball has continued without much of a hitch in states like Nevada.

“That was supposed to be a huge trip for me. I took the liberty to do some research and talked to my family members (on the mainland). I wanted to have input from them before I talked to my parents (Ford and Leialoha),” Naeata said.

It was a tough sell. Naeata’s mother, grandmother and great-grandmother graduated from Kahuku. Her proposal was to move to Utah or Las Vegas to live with relatives.

“I actually made a slide presentation. I was originally going to live in Utah with my dad’s sister, but he felt it was better to go to Vegas and live with his brother (Mosese Naeata),” she said.

Mom and dad relented.

“It was the hardest decision for me as a father regarding my daughter,” Ford Naeata said. “(Earlier) I was against sending her to private school in Honolulu because I didn’t want her to leave home, yet obviously I went against my own judgment later. She was determined and set on accomplishing her dream to play basketball at the next level, to use it as a tool to help pay for her college.”

Leiah Naeata needed the approval of mom, Leialoha, and dad, Ford, to transfer away from Kahuku. Photo courtesy of Leiah Naeata.

Naeata also got input from another former All-State selection, Jalen Tanuvasa, who transferred from Maryknoll to a Las Vegas school last year. She moved up with her family. Tanuvasa parlayed her year-round exposure into a scholarship offer from San Jose State. She committed to the Spartans on Sept. 5.

“Jalen and her dad told me about Las Vegas Storm and they had open arms for her,” Naeata said.

Prior to Tanuvasa, another local player, Dahlis Sablay, moved to Las Vegas due to her mother’s medical issues. The former Mililani point guard is now playing at Southern Oregon.

The Storm, coached by Shay Johnson, have two varsity-level teams, National and Premium. Naeata plays for the stronger team, National. Before arriving, the 5-foot-8 guard had to get temporary guardianship paperwork done.

“It was a very rough month getting everything ready, making sure I’m eligible to go,” she said.

Naeata plans to return to Kahuku after high school basketball season ends, but with no scholarship offers on the table yet, it is wait-and-see mode.

She began practicing with the Storm on July 6, and they practice two to three times per week. There have been two tournaments in Utah, and a tournament in Las Vegas. In October, there will be tourneys in Arizona, Utah and Las Vegas again.

“So far, it’s been around 25 or 30 games. This is a record for me,” she said. “The skill level from Hawaii to Vegas is a major difference. I had to adapt to how they play. It’s more intense, faster and more contact. I just want to get better.”

In addition, her school team plays offseason hoops.

“We have a Palo Verde club team as well, and we’re in a fall league. So every week I play with them. The first game is tomorrow (Wednesday). Our (regular) season is supposed to start in January,” Naeata said.

Her role with the Storm utilizes her multi-position skills.

“I feel like it is very simplified. I don’t really play point guard as much, which is what I wanted to do. Over here, I play shooting guard and play point guard when I need to. I post up on the mismatches when I get the smaller guards,” she said. “Our practice is 7-9 (p.m.). If we finish early we’ll get extra shots up. It’s about how I utilize my time, time management.”

The Storm have age-group teams that keep their facility busy.

“There’s a park nearby. My auntie (Sui) and cousin (Li‘i) like to rebound for me. Me and my auntie go to 24-Hour Fitness and I can get my reps in there,” she said. “Summerlin, it’s different from the North Shore, where it’s loud. In Summerlin, it’s really quiet and mostly elderly people. Really peaceful. We try not to be loud.”

Meanwhile, back in Hawaii, the state’s second lockdown has prolonged the closure of school gyms, City and County gyms and parks.

“Basketball, school and church is pretty much my whole life now. My uncle and auntie (Sui) have two kids, but we have visiting families almost every week and there’s a lot of cousins nearby, so we visit all the time. I’m the oldest grand-daughter on both sides, so there’s a lot of younger kids and it’s a lot of babysitting, but a lot of fun,” Naeata said.


She has offers from schools across the horizon, from Division II to community colleges. Utah Valley, a D-I program, is in contact. She has has some interest in UC Santa Barbara, where former Kamehameha sharpshooter Kiana Vierra plays.

“I’ve been sending them film,” Naeata said. “Kiana is a good friend of mine.”

The transition to a new home hasn’t been easy in the social world. There have been anonymous critics.

“I’ve heard a lot of that since I got here. A lot of people outside, people who believe I should’ve just stayed there, that I wasn’t ready to play on the mainland. I’ve gotten used to it and I love improving from where I was,” Naeata said. “On social, when I used old stories for reference, and people would comment about why am I up here.”

She stays in touch with her family constantly.

“My parents call every day. They do worry a lot. I’ve travelled with my (808 Basketball) team a lot before. They have to work and couldn’t always travel, so that helped me be more independent. I call and I like to talk to my sisters Kaylah and Tajah,” Naeata said. “They’re my best friends.”

It is a big sacrifice, chasing the dream. Naeata, who has a 3.5 grade-point average, doesn’t have a dream school in mind for the next level.

“Honestly, right now, I’d go for any college that would pay for my tuition. That’s my main goal,” she said.

Her other goal is to major in pre-medicine.

“Then go to medical school and take all the steps to become a psychiatrist. I’ve seen how it has helped people I love,” Naeata said. “I just want to give back.”

Lockdown staples

Top 3 movies/shows

1. “Hawaii 5-0.” “The recent one. My favorite character is Max, the medical examiner. He’s awkwardly funny.”

2. “Grey’s Anatomy.” “I say Jill Wilson.”

3. “The Office.” “My favorite character is Dwight.”

Top 3 food/snack/drinks

1. Cake noodle from Laie Chop Suey. “That would be the first place I would go.”

2. Steak. “My auntie (Sui) makes it at home. Frying pan and butter.”

3. Hot dog and pork and beans. “I had it last week. It’s my favorite meal and it’s so easy to make. I fry the hot dog and add the pork and beans, and brown sugar.”

Top 3 music artists

1. Neyo. “Probably ‘Because of You.’ “

2. Chris Brown. “This Christmas.”

3. Earth Wind & Fire. “Boogie Wonderland.”

New life skill

Naeata: “I know how to use a dishwasher now. I never used one before.”


Shout outs

Naeata: “My sisters. My grandma (Leialoha Finai). My aunties, uncles. My cousins and my family that I live with here.”

Leiah Naeata has played “25 to 30 games” with her Las Vegas Storm club team since moving in July. Photo courtesy of Leiah Naeata.

COMMENTS

  1. LSHAKS September 23, 2020 1:28 pm

    Proud Of You Leiah👌 Keep Doing Your Thang💪 #MyBeastNiece


  2. Fullcourt September 23, 2020 2:01 pm

    Good luck . Keep working and everything will workou


  3. Sport Fan September 23, 2020 3:12 pm

    Aww…loved watching her play but it’s the best move to improve and get exposure.


  4. Martha Kaio September 23, 2020 3:24 pm

    Proud of you Leiah to go after your dream…Keep ballin’ cause you’re an awesome player…keep chasing your dream…


  5. Supportive Parent September 23, 2020 11:17 pm

    First of all Leiah really put in the work to talk to her parents about making this move in June. Leiah’s parents really worked hard to get Leiah to LV in such a short amount of time. They made the ultimate sacrifice for allowing Leiah to move, the sign of wonderful and supportive parents.

    Then Jalen Tanuvasa and her parents really helped out too. Jalen’s dad offered insight to Leiah’s dad about making the move. Then he talked to the Las Vegas Storm Coach to add Leiah to their National Team. Coach Shay, Coach Camacho, and Coach Chad all rotate coaching the National Team for Las Vegas Storm. Leiah’s first games have been against Tree of Hope. Then LV Storm traveled to Utah. The opportunities that LV Storm has been providing for Leiah is outstanding.

    Leiah’s old club City High in Hawaii has been contacting college coaches at the D1, D2, NAIA, and Junior College Level. My daughter tells me right now Leiah has 2 offers to high level Junior Colleges, one D2 offer, and interest from several Division 1 and Division 2 schools. This really has been a team effort for Leiah.

    Way to go Leiah!


  6. Fullcourt September 24, 2020 12:26 pm

    Is Dwayne Yuen still coaching city high ?


  7. Country Boy September 24, 2020 2:39 pm

    Sounds like a lot of sacrifices made here. Let’s all pull for this young lady.

    I hope COVID gets better so the kids can get bsck to being active. I know my children miss being outdoors, running, and seeing their friends.

    But it’s important to stay safe. I feel for the seniors who have had their senior years altered.

    Stay safe everyone!


  8. Laie Tutu September 24, 2020 6:37 pm

    So proud of our Leiah girl! She has done our community proud! Everyone will be rooting for Leiah. While we all miss her, forging her own path in Las Vegas is amazing! DO it for yourself! DO it for your family! DO it for our community! We are all behind you girl!!! RR4L


  9. Laie Tutu September 24, 2020 9:04 pm

    I think it is so sad to the anonymous people who go online and speak badly of Leiah. We as a community should support our keiki when they do anything positive. I just read above that there are critics and people saying Leiah isn’t ready. If you are not Leiah’s parents or coaches, may I ask why anyone is saying bad stuff? That is so pilau. Who does that kind of things. Who goes on a computer to talk badly about a kid? You keep doing you Leiah!


  10. Fullcourt September 24, 2020 9:16 pm

    @supportive parent is Dwayne Yuen still the club coach for city high ?


  11. Laie Girl September 25, 2020 4:23 am

    The one and only Leiah Naeata. Great job. Yes a big sacrifice, but well worth it. Good luck and go get em! 🤙🏽


  12. Fullcourt September 25, 2020 1:29 pm

    Does anyone know who coaches city high


  13. Supportive Parent September 25, 2020 4:55 pm

    To my hanai niece, keep doing you girl! We hope to plan a family trip to Vegas to coincide with one of your games or even better your Senior Night! We are very excited to see you play against the best Vegas has to offer. We know you will hold more than your own against anyone in Vegas! Cheeeee! Keep working hard! I will make sure Ford and Lei do not forget you! We are so proud of you girl!


  14. Laie Boy September 25, 2020 5:04 pm

    Go get um Leiah! 2 Time OIA POY. One of the top players in Hawaii. Huge sacrifice by the family. But that’s what you do for family. Leiah can handle anything these Vegas girls can throw at her!!! Single handedly carried Kahuku Girls since Sisi left! Rooting 4 you sista!

    #RR4L #RR4L #RR4L #RR4L

    Had to do um 4 times!


  15. Danny September 26, 2020 9:20 am

    Proud of her in her pursuit of higher learning…college ed…via sports. Keep at it & it will happen. Miss watching b-ball this summer & of course watching 808 club. Nan & Bobby great coaches. Good luck young lady.


  16. RRFL October 3, 2020 5:18 pm

    @Laie Boy Leiah did not “Single handedly” carry the Kahuku Girls. And who is Sisi?


  17. Laie Pride October 14, 2020 8:42 am

    @RR4L, if you dont know who Sisi is, I question if you follow or have watched our ladies play. And i agree that Leiah carried our team. Most coaches around the island would agree.


  18. RRFL October 26, 2020 3:00 pm

    Its funny how people say she “single handedly carried the kahuku team” and blahblahblah and then bring up another girl who also moved to get an offer and ended up at a community College. Stop saying things like that bcoz u just discrediting the other players who DONT play year around and who actually BUST their butts too. That’s great and all that’s she is “dream chasing” but yall need to stop with that “Hawaii dont get exposure” bs already. There are athletes getting offers, if you ain’t getting anything, you ain’t a “baller” like you claim. One thing to talk about it. Another thing to be about it. Girls going to college for basketball from Hawaii. STOP playing that “oh I had to move bcoz Hawaii doesn’t get exposure”. ESPECIALLY when a player plays club ball YEAR AROUND! And if you been traveling and playing in all these tournaments, then playing in Hawaii isn’t the issue. Players need to LISTEN to their coaches and Parents need to STOP MAKING EXCUSES for their kids. All you Laie whatevaz people can come at me if you want , but your comments are the VERY REASON that these kids make all the excuses in the world. You only want to tell them good things and praise them. You not trying to push them to be better , you make them think they got it and then come senior year, they changing schools, blaming the coaches the schools , the state LOL for why they never got offers. Just coz its the truth and you mad , don’t say that I’m hating. ITS NOT HATE , ITS BEING HONEST SINCE YOU CANT BE


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