Before he heads for the University of Texas this summer, Kamaka Hepa has a detour to make-- as a member of the USA Basketball Men's U18 national team.

He's one of 12 to make the roster which will compete in the 2018 FIBA Americas U18 Championship in St. Catharines, Canada. The team travels on Thursday.
The Barrow native will play for the Longhorns next fall, but this announcement is a huge boost to what is already his rising star.

Two days ago, the list of hopefuls was pared down to 18. Tuesday, the final cut down came. The 18 players practiced and scrimmaged then made their way into a room where the staff, led by head coach Bill Self, a Naismith Hall of Famer and the current coach at Kansas, made the announcement.

"The first 10 seconds of my name being called, I was at loss for thought," Hepa said by phone

Tuesday night from the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Then, the reality and size of the moment became apparent.

"I just thought how all the hard work I put in has paid off. Obviously, I know I have to continue to work hard to continue to achieve my goals. This is definitely one of those milestones that I'll look back on as I get older."

He texted his father, called his mother and spoke to his head coach at Texas, Shaka Smart, who already knew.

“It was tough getting it to 12,” said Bill Self, USA U18 and University of Kansas head coach on the USA Basketball website. “It was tough getting it from 33 to 18, but even with the 18, we’ve had a couple of extra days with and know how committed they all are to trying to make the team, knowing that different guys look better on different days and in different situations, it was tough getting to 12 because there are a lot of interchangeable parts."

Hepa's path to the U.S. team has been an extraordinary one. He grew up in Barrow and helped lead his high school to a pair of Alaskan state titles. Then he moved to Portland, Oregon for his junior and senior season to play for a Jefferson High School there to increase his visibility. In the process, he helped lead the school to a state title in 2017. Following his senior season, he returned home to graduate with his class in Alaska. Next, it's off to Austin, Texas, and the Big 12.

But first, he has some global business.

"It's a great opportunity to see how my game compares to other kids in our country-- but to be a part of this team where we pick 12 of the best guys in this country to compete against other teams from different parts of the world, it's such a great opportunity and I'm very grateful for it."

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