In the past two years New Zealand basketball has witnessed the emergence of two young point guards on the international stage. Tai Webster shot to prominence at the 2014 FIBA World Championships in Spain and Shea Ili, after making his international debut in 2015 played a significant part in the recent Tall Blacks Olympic Qualifying campaign.
Just bubbling under but definitely on the Tall Blacks radar for the future is Isaac Letoa.
Similar to Webster and Ili, Letoa is extremely athletic, blessed with good foot speed and possesses the ability to attack the basket.
Like Webster, he also hails from the North Shore basketball factory otherwise known as Westlake Boys High School.
Letoa moved to Auckland from Wellington in 2013 and has been a member of the Westlake premier team for the past 3 years.
He has also been a member of the Breakers Academy for the same length of time.
SKYCITY Breakers assistant coach and head coach of the Academy Mike Fitchett is in no doubt what qualities Letoa has that set him apart from most young players in New Zealand.
“Isaac has great defensive ability, plays with intensity and has a terrific work ethic,” says Fitchett.
“He has the capacity to stay in front of quick ball handlers and demonstrates great commitment on defence which you don’t see from a lot of young players. He also has the ability to penetrate at the offensive end and his perimeter shooting is improving,” added Fitchett.
Last month he was one of three Kiwis invited to attend the prestigious adidas Nations tournament in Los Angeles.
Over four days 80 of the top under 18 players from around the world had the opportunity to hone their skills under the guidance of elite coaches. A mix of skill and development drills and scrimmages took place (July 29-Aug 1) culminating in the championship game being broadcast live on ESPNU.
Letoa, along with Sam Waardenburg (Rangitoto College) and Quinn Clinton (Christchurch Boys High School) received invitations from ex NBA player Randy Livingston coach of Team Asia Pacific to attend the camp.
Letoa started every game for the Asia Pacific team and relished the opportunity to test himself against elite young athletes from around the world, particularly the young American players.
“All the players were quick but you expect that and need to adapt your game,” said Letoa.
The Westlake team captain, who turned 18 the day after the camp, loved the experience and was happy with how he performed earning a starting spot in every game.
“I learnt that every possession is vital and every opportunity has to be taken. It was a crazy experience.”
Letoa once again had an opportunity to benchmark his skill set against international opponents last Saturday playing alongside Ili and Tai Wynyard for the SKYCITY Breakers against the visiting American team Athletes in Action.
AIA are made up of players in their early twenties that have recently graduated from American college programmes or are in their senior years.
Letoa produced a composed performance backing up Ili at point guard scoring 11 points in the 97-78 loss but demonstrated the qualities Fitchett talked about.
Fellow Breakers coach Judd Flavell who has helped oversee Letoa’s development for the last three years also believes the 18 year old has a very good basketball career in front of him.
“It is refreshing to see a young guard with good court vision and passing ability. He has a high basketball IQ and reads the game very well.”
“Isaac is a fine person, has good discipline and works hard, these are attributes that his parents (Fata and Paula) can take a lot of credit for.”
In the future Letoa wants to join the long list of ex Westlake High School and Breakers Academy players to have played for the Tall Blacks but right now his goals are clear.
“My ambition is to gain a basketball scholarship to attend university in the USA. I want to study product design but I will have to wait and see what transpires in terms of subject choice,” said Letoa.
He will wait until he finishes this academic year at Westlake before deciding which university to attend. Flavell and Fitchett believe he will have plenty of options.