Hepa, Barrow light up NBHS scoreboard en route to sweep
Many spectators in the crowded Nome-Beltz gym last week watched forward Kamaka Hepa of the visiting Barrow Whalers with the a feeling they might be witnessing some special history unfolding before their eyes. Something similar to seeing Hall of Famer Willie Mays playing baseball in the minor leagues, or catching a Rolling Stones concert before they became mainstream.
Barrow needed to return early for the weekend, so the 6’10” Hepa and the Whalers came to Nome for a rare Thursday and Friday night twinbill. The top ranked team in ASAA’s 3A division poured in close to 200 points, and departed with a pair of nearly identical wins, taking the first game 92-53 and the second 92-51.
Hepa led the way with 24 points on Thursday and 28 on Friday. He demonstrated his multi-faceted skill set by dribbling the ball up the court, by connecting on four three-pointers, by being a force on defense, and by connecting on four of seven from the free-throw line. He is also the team’s leading shot blocker. But the thing that most caught the eye of Nome-Beltz fans was the display of dazzling dunks.
Barrow came to the Nome-Beltz gym as the defending 3A state champions. According to a poll conducted by the Alaska Association of Basketball Coaches, Barrow is currently ranked number one among 3A schools. According to the website MaxPreps, after their games with the Nanooks, the Whalers season record stands at 19-3.
Hepa and his crew have not built their lofty .863 winning percentage by beating up on Cream Puffs. They’ve done just the opposite, as a large chunk of their games have come against much larger 4A schools. They won the Doc Larson Roundball Classic in Wasilla by taking down teams from Oregon, Nevada, and Wasilla — who is ranked fifth in the state for 4A schools. They’ve beaten Anchorage West High, Chugiak High School and a team from Colorado. They also demolished Monroe Catholic, the second ranked 3A team, 54-36 on the road.
The Whalers’ only losses were a narrow 56-52 defeat against 4A’s third ranked team, the Anchorage East Thunderbirds, a 76-73 overtime loss to Bartlett High, and a 64-63 loss to Colony.
Hepa was swarmed by a throng of over 30 basketball fans after the game on Friday. He literally stood heads above the crowd. In an interview after the game Hepa said, “I was always tall, but didn’t get to get 6’6” or 6’7” until going into my eighth grade year.”
“Our team wants another one,” said Hepa of his squad’s championship aspirations. “Last year was our first, and we don’t want to stop there.” He sees Grace Christian and Monroe, who are ranked number two and three in the state, as his team’s biggest hurdles on their way to back-to-back titles.
The talented Hepa was quick to praise his teammates. He noted the fine work of Adams, the team’s sophomore point guard, who leads the team with 5.6 assists and 2.5 steals per game. He gave a shout out to junior Trevor Thomas, the Whalers’ main three-point shooter, who scored 14 on Thursday and 20 on Friday. He also gave kudos to junior Roy Henry Snow who hustled hard for rebounds.
“What keeps me motivated right now is that I know I want to go beyond high school basketball. That’s what has kept my work ethic up,” said Hepa, who has already received six offers from NCAA Division 1 schools. He lists these as Old Dominion, the University of Northern Colorado, the University of New Mexico, the University of Portland, the University of San Francisco and Grand Canyon University. He also has an offer from the Division 2 University of Alaska-Anchorage.
Nome head coach Pat Callahan’s Nanooks’ season record slipped to 3-18 with the two losses to Barrow. Callahan knew his squad was in for an uphill battle against the powerful and deep Whalers. And he knows his team will most likely meet Barrow in the opening round of the Western Conference Tournament on March 10 in Anchorage.
Turnovers hurt his team in the early going of each game. “Mikey Scott held his own, he took it right to him (Hepa),” he said. Scott, a junior, led the Nanooks with 22 points on Friday. Senior Ian Booth scored a game-high 28 on Thursday.
The Nanooks play host to the Unalakleet Wolfpack next weekend. Saturday has been designated Senior Night.