Thanks to the National Basketball Training Center (NBTC) of hoops mentor Eric Altamirano, we all got to see Kamaka Hepa in the flesh. The 17-year old, 6’9” Fil-Am from Alaska saw action in the NBTC League National Finals held at the Mall of Asia Arena last week, and left everybody in the arena shaking his head in wonderment over his basketball prowess. Hepa led the Fil-Am Sports USA team of Coach Bong Ulep with a near triple-double of 27 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, and 9 blocks in a losing effort against eventual Division 1 champions San Beda Red Cubs.
I first heard about Hepa two years ago when I came to Las Vegas to scout for potential recruits for the San Beda Red Lions varsity in an All-Asian tournament. However, he failed to join the visiting squad from Portland so I never got to see him in action. Instead, I discovered other Fil-Ams good enough to carve a name in Philippine basketball. One of them was 6’2” guard Jalen Caoile, whose younger brother Drayton is Hepa’s teammate at Fil-Am Sports in the NBTC League. In the same trip, I was able to recruit Davon Potts who’s making a name for himself now in the on-going Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Developmental League with the Cignal HD-San Beda Hawkeyes team.
Hepa, whose father is half-Filipino and traces his roots to Asingan, Pangasinan, has been under the radar of several US NCAA Division 1 schools like Oregon, Oklahoma, Texas and Stanford universities since he was 15 years old. A senior for Jefferson HS in Portland, Kamaka is said to be among the Top 50 high school prospects in all of the USA. Before moving to Portland, he was a high school phenom in his home state of Alaska, averaging 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 2.8 assists as a sophomore for the Barrow HS Whaler. Against the Red Cubs last week, Hepa also shot 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, and an overall shooting clip of 58%. However, in his second game on the same day held at the Palm Coast Marina gym, Hepa struggled against eventual finalists Sacred Heart of Cebu having to play in an un-air-conditioned venue at summer time here. Imagine spending most of his life in Alaska. But he was clearly a man among boys, undoubtedly well rounded with his shooting, passing, dribbling and rebounding skills.
Apart from Hepa, his teammate Bruce Edwards also caught the eye of many college scouts present during the NBTC League. The 6’4” forward had 19 markers and seven boards versus San Beda. The scuttlebutt is Adamson U has the inside track in recruiting the New Jersey resident. From the Durham Crossover team of Canada, most impressive were 6’3” guard-forward Evyn Santiago and 6’5” power forward Matthew Daves, both from Toronto. Australian-based Jasper Rentoy and James Cabban from the AusPinoy team of Australia also made a good account of themselves in the NBTC League, as did brothers Emmanuel and Edward Maagdenberg of the New Zealand squad.
Last year, it was Durham’s James Canlas that took the NBTC League by storm as the 6’4” guard wowed the crowd with his outstanding skills. He plays very much like Ray Parks Jr. Like Hepa, Canlas also received several offers from D1 schools in the USA. Durham’s coach Mike Cruz hoped Canlas joined the trip this year but his schedule won’t allow it.
Present during the NBTC games were Ateneo’s Tab Baldwin, Yuri Escueta, Joe Silva and Ford Arao, Adamson’s Franz Pumaren, Tonichi Yturri, Jack Santiago and Awoo Lacson, University of the Philippines’ Bo Perasol and Ricky Dandan, San Beda’s Boyet Fernandez, Far Eastern U’s Olsen Racela and Ryan Betia, and College of St. Benilde’s TY Tang and Chales Tiu.
With the discovery of the likes of Hepa, the future of Philippine basketball looks very promising indeed. Last year, 6’5” Fil-Canadian Christian David was recruited by another D1 school – Butler University. David was a Top 10 high school prospect from Canada last year, who could’ve been Kobe Paras’ teammate at Creighton U. But he picked the Butler Bulldogs.
We can expect more young basketball Pinoy talents from outside the country to turn up soon.