Young New Zealand basketballers earning scholarships to the United States to pursue their educations and further their basketball careers are not uncommon. In fact, New Zealand is something of a nursery of world class young talent, with over 70 women and more than 50 men currently in various basketball-scholarship programmes Stateside.
Combining basketball talent with a genuine calling in academia is not so common however, but 18-year-old Isaac Letoa will do just that when the Junior Tall Black, former Breakers Academy and current Wellington Saints guard takes up a full academic scholarship with Ivy League Dartmouth College.
For some time identified as a real talent in the game, Letoa was a member of the Junior Tall Blacks that scored an upset (and first ever) win over Australia in the 2016 Oceania Championships to earn a spot at the FIBA Junior World Cup in July this year.
Not surprising for a player who would grab the attention of the Ivy Leagues, Letoa did his research and jumped at the chance to spend the next few years at Dartmouth.
“I researched and realized pretty quickly that a degree from an Ivy League school could open up so many doors in the future. Their Alumni system is so well respected in the States and in many parts of the world. I felt like I would never regret this choice. Of the East Coast Ivies that approached, we looked at their rosters and researched the coaches and thought Dartmouth would be a good ﬁt. They are Division 1, but I wasn't too worried about that, a good Division 2 would have been okay as well.”
Letoa had to decide from multiple offers and has made one Head Coach a very happy man with his call to sign with Dartmouth.
“We are thrilled to have Isaac become a member of our program and Dartmouth Family,” said Dartmouth Men’s Basketball Head Coach David McLaughlin.
“He embodies so much of what we look for when evaluating: A love for the game, a winning and competitive approach every time he is on the court, high basketball acumen, and a work ethic where he truly wants to get better each day. Isaac is a young man of very high character who we feel will have an immediate impact on our team and within the Dartmouth community.”
When considering who to thank for helping him reach this point in his life and basketball career, Letoa had a long list to ponder.
“Without question my family deserves full acknowledgment. My father (Fata) has been closely involved having been a coach and a mentor throughout the majority of my life. Jordan, my older brother, has had a similar role but uniquely he helped to install a competitive spirit in me. Getting beaten in nearly everything we competed in, you learn to hate losing. My Mother (Paula) has very much had a behind the scenes impact that she doesn’t really get credit for, she has worked extremely hard to support my goals whether they’re basketball-related or not.
“All my extended family and friends who have contributed so much to fundraisers and in many other ways over the years. I wouldn’t have got this far if it weren’t for them helping me get overseas to be seen.
“Shawn Beck who took the time to organise the initial contact and endorse me as a person which led to this opportunity. Wellington College and Westlake Boys High School for preparing me academically, supporting my basketball and encouraging me to take leadership opportunities. Also, the Westlake Old Boys Association (the Westlakers) for their support and encouragement.
“Judd Flavell and Mike Fitchett in their roles as Breakers Academy coaches shaped me as a player, encouraging me as person and putting me forward for consideration to overseas Nike NBA and Adidas Nations camps. John Hunt from the North Harbour Association for the great Rep programme and his support of me and my family over the last three years.
“BBNZ for providing opportunities to compete at a high level from Korus, to New Zealand age groups, 3x3 and now JTBs. And to the many coaches I have had over the years - I have learnt something from each one, including Kevin Braswell who is really pushing me at Saints training and helping me to prepare for College ball.”
Letoa will study engineering at Dartmouth (relating to Product/Industrial Design) and is looking forward to living on campus and making the most of a wonderful opportunity.
“Over 90% of the students live on campus at Dartmouth, which is apparently quite rare and also makes the atmosphere pretty good. Your name is drawn 'out of a hat' and you’re placed into a dorm 'cluster' like a high school house group. You stay within that cluster of dorms for the rest of your college years although some choose to move in to fraternity and sorority houses.
“I want to make the most of this fantastic opportunity, gain an Ivy League degree, contacts for life and of course, some competitive basketball. I’ve always aspired to play the sport professionally wherever my talents/ability takes me.”
The family is extremely proud of Isaac, with dad Fata speaking on their behalf.
“Paula, Jordan and I are incredibly proud of this opportunity as we have seen first-hand the consistency of dedication and effort that has led to it. Isaac and others like him play sport for school, region, country and sometimes club resulting in many trainings per week and still muster the energy consistently to keep up with, and at times excel in schoolwork.
“But as he'll be the first to say, none of it would be possible without the huge support of our extended families, the Breakers, the fantastic teachers and staff at Westlake Boys, and the many friends and supporters who have dipped into their pockets for countless fundraisers to get him overseas over the years. It has definitely been a big team effort and we're hugely grateful.
“We want to acknowledge his brother Jordan especially, who has played a huge role in the family over what has been a tough year. Both our sons are made of tough stuff and shine in their own ways and once again, we just couldn't be prouder of them.”
Player Bio: Isaac Letoa
• Full name: Isaac Kobe Letoa
• Date of Birth: 2 August 1998
• Height: 185cm (6"1)
• Playing Position: Point Guard
• Home town: Wellington/Auckland
• Home Club/Association: North Harbour
• School attended in NZ: Wellington College and Westlake Boys High School
• Provincial and National teams represented: Wellington: U13 2007-2010, U15 2011 & 2012, U17 2013 Harbour: U17 2014, U19 2015 (DNP 2016) New Zealand: U16 2014, U17 2014, U18 2014, 3x3 2016, JTB 2016
• College signed to: Dartmouth College, NCAA Division 1