Samoans move into national spotlight on basketball court

Tafuna grad Talanoa Smith leads the way
2011 Tafuna High School graduate Talanoa Smith (center) is now playing for the Willamette University Bearcats as starting Guard where he continues to make a name for himself in his junior year. Smith is seen here playing for the American Samoa National Basketball team. [photo: ASBA Facebook page]

Samoans have been well represented on the football field for several years now in mainland high schools, colleges and among the professional ranks, including the National Football League. It is no surprise to hear names like Polamalu, Peko, Te'o and Sopoaga when it comes to football, but if the current trend continues in basketball, you just might be hearing more names of Samoan descent outside of high school gymnasiums.
One of the most well known basketball players of Samoan descent at this time is Peyton Siva who was a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champion in basketball at the University of Louisville and is now playing with the Detroit Pistons in the National Basketball Association.
Another Samoan basketball player — who is a 2011 Tafuna High School graduate as well as a member of the American Samoa Basketball Association — Talanoa Smith, is now making a name for himself with the Willamette University Basketball Team, the Bearcats. In fact, Smith is not the only Samoan on the Bearcat roster, as head coach Kip Ioane and player Avery Manu are also of Samoan descent.
In a recent article written by www.d3hoops.com, on the trio, their headline stated, ‘Willamette’s basketball team powered by Samoans’.
“When I was a kid, I grew up watching more basketball. Even though football was around me, I enjoyed the talent and the different ways basketball players played and how it looked,” said Smith to d3hoops. “I liked playing basketball more because I felt like I had more talent and ability to be better at basketball than football,” he said. According to the article, because of Coach Ioane’s Samoan heritage, it made it easier for him to contact Smith and Manu.
“The parents obviously trusted me, knowing my background. They know our program is based on that same family concept of big brothers taking care of smaller brothers and respecting your elders,” said Coach Ioane to d3. “I think that was easy for the parents…to trust me with them 10 months of the year.”
The article stated that when Smith was sending out highlight tapes to colleges all over the West coast, hoping to find a place to play, that Coach Ioane was the first one to reply.
 “Kip was the first one to reply back and him being Samoan was another factor to open my eyes to see Willamette,” said Smith. “Just to know that there was another Samoan who knew who I was and knew my culture, I feel like that gave my parents a comforting feeling,” said Smith to d3.
The article also states that Coach Ioane feels the experience has helped Smith’s leadership skills, making him more valuable to the Bearcats. “Being an ambassador is a lot of responsibility, but I think it’s been great for him,” said the coach. The article also reports that Smith hopes to give back to his country by playing for the national team in the 2015 Pacific Games.
Smith, who plays Point Guard and stands at 6’2” and 190lbs, is in his junior year, while Manu is in his senior year.  At 6’3” and 195lbs, Manu plays wing (shooting guard) and both are starters for the Bearcats this season.
Earlier this year, Smith returned to the territory and participated in the 2013 Summer Youth Project. Smith was a standout player for Tafuna High School where he helped collect multiple championship titles and eventually earned a roster spot with the American Samoa National Team. He also played in 2010 for the American Samoa Under 19 team that competed in New Caledonia and earned a spot on the 2011 Oceania All-Star team that played for the Australia Cup.
Willamette University is located in Salem, Oregon and is an NCAA Division III school.
Smith contacted Samoa News via email telling us he is having a great experience playing at the collegiate level. “I am doing great and I am looking forward to a good season. I have this great opportunity of getting an education and playing the sport I love and I am so thankful for this,” he said.
“I would like to wish my family and friends back home a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year, especially my grandfather High Talking Chief Talanoa Lagafuaina, my namesake. Praying for you always grandpa as well as my grandmas, Imeleta Lagafuaina and Siupolu Smith,” he said. He also thanked everyone for their prayers and support.


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