By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Dave Argyle (DBA Photography) & Kevin McInnis
After experiencing Utah high school basketball at the 2014 FreeTaxUSA Shootout at Orem High School, Samuta Avea found himself facing a major decision.
At the time, Avea was a sophomore playing for Kahuku High on the island of Oahu. He was a rising star on the hardwood, but he was way off the radar when it came to being recruited to play at the next level.
Hawaii has a reputation for producing talented football players, and while he played football, Avea’s first love was always basketball. A week after his sophomore season ended, Avea decided to leave his home and family temporarily and move in with his aunt and uncle (and his cousin, Bingham High football star and future Air Force Academy Falcon Ethan Erickson) in South Jordan to pursue his hoop dreams.
“I played basketball and football (until this year), but I always had that love for basketball,” Avea said. “It’s fun. It’s high-paced, You’re going and it’s non-stop. I just wanted to get more exposure in basketball and just get better.”
He found what he was looking for when he arrived on campus at Bingham High and connected with head coach Jake Schroeder, Yoeli Childs and the Miners. Mostly, he quickly discovered a place where he can get the attention of college recruiters. Avea went from assuming his best shot was to play at the one school, Hawaii, that didn’t have to cross the ocean to see him, to seeing his options open up in a big way.
“(Exposure in Hawaii was) really small,” Avea said. “I came out to Vegas and had some tournaments in AAU and stuff, but other than that you’re just playing in front of Hawaii. It’s been overwhelming. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Avea loved the large crowds, the student cheering sections and a very different style of play that he saw at that Orem High tournament, and he has seen all of that and more now that he is settling in here in Utah.
“It’s high speed,” Avea said. “I thought I was the one running the court back home, but it’s really high paced (here). (And) it’s really physical defense. There’s definitely a big difference between back home and here in Utah.”
Schroeder first saw Avea on the court at the end of last school year, right after he arrived at Bingham. He quickly discovered that the new arrival was going to be a serious contributor to his program.
“Samuta’s been great. He’s been a great addition,” Schroeder said. “He’s kind of the X-factor for us. He does things a lot of kids in the state can’t do. He can jump. He can shoot it. He can get to the rim. He’s got a motor that doesn’t stop. He’s phenomenal. He’s learning how to play the way we want him to play and how to play in Utah. Utah’s a different place than other places.”
It’s that non-stop motor that Avea points to as his greatest asset. That, along with his ability to play any position on the floor if needed. His athletic ability is off the charts, whether he’s attacking the rim or elevating to pull down an offensive rebound.
“My (best skill) is definitely my motor,” Avea said. “It’s how hard I go. It’s just something you really can’t really teach. I’ll play the big if you want and I’ll play the point if you want. I’ll guard the big if you want and I’ll guard the point if you want. It’s a challenge, but I’m not afraid of it.”
His coach really likes who his junior star is already as a player, but he loves the long-term potential.
“The sky’s the limit for him,” Schroeder said. “He’s phenomenal on the offensive glass. He gets his hands on more things…As far as pure skill, even when I was down at Dixie (State University), I don’t think I’ve ever coached a kid that has as much skill as he has – ball handling, getting to the rim. There are other aspects of the game that he’s working on, the mental aspect and making sure he’s always ready to play, but as far as the ball in his hand, he can do everything.”
Avea has a lot of the best parts of Hawaii in him. There’s an element of being laid back and enjoying life, but then there’s the competitive side.
“Growing up I was always taught respect and making other people before myself,” Avea said. “That’s the way I was raised. There’s that Aloha spirit for sure (in Hawaii). Off the court, it’s always fun, chill, but game time is definitely a different mood. If you’re on the other side of the court, it’s war.”
The move to South Jordan has allowed Avea to learn how to elevate himself to a whole new level when it comes to pushing himself to excel. During the summer he played with Utah Prospects, where he had the chance to scrimmage against Lone Peak star and future Duke Blue Devil Frank Jackson.
“I definitely look up to Frank a lot, his work ethic and everything,” Avea said. “It’s always awesome having a guy like that on your team. Yoeli too, but having those kind of dudes around has really helped.”
Now, his full effort is on helping Bingham reach its goals. The Miners are hard at it, every day, as a team and Avea is working overtime to improve his own game.
“I try to get as many shots as I can, get more consistent, getting arc on my shot and ball handing, every day 30 minutes to an hour, just keeping my handle tight,” Avea said. “We really want it. This is a hungry team. We had early mornings all preseason. We want it more than anyone. We’re ready for whoever is in our way.”
That college scholarship he left Hawaii to chase is just around the corner and Avea is grateful for the sacrifices his family has made to help him along the way. He’s looking forward to telling his parents that his education will be paid for.
“It’s meant a lot,” Avea said. “The opportunities I’ve been given are overwhelming to play the sport I love and do everything I want to do.”