Auckland Huskies guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa is learning to deal with frustration.
The Hutt Valley native had to watch the club’s first two games on TV as he saw out the last week of his Covid-19 quarantine spell in an Auckland hotel.
“It was definitely frustrating not being able to play the two opening games. I wanted to be out there with the team and fight with them. I finally got out on June 27thand felt like I was free!”
There was however a silver lining for the Huskies No1 draft pick as the games offered something of a distraction during his time in quarantine.
“It was good having the NBL games as it made time go faster. I watched from 5.30 until the last game finished.
Not surprisingly Izayah looked a little rusty in his first game.
“I remember recalling it had been 110 days since I last played. It certainly didn’t go the way I wanted it to shooting one from fifteen. Having not played for that length of time it was nice getting the feel for the ball again and trying to get my legs back.
“I definitely feel better now getting my touch back and getting some air into the lungs.”
A bigger frustration confronted Izayah back on March 11ththis year.
The Sacramento State University starting guard had made 13 points and 10 rebounds against Weber State University in a Big Sky Conference Tournament first round win the previous day.
He was looking forward to the next game against Eastern Washington when word came through that the game wouldn’t be played.
“I remember that we were on the team bus headed to the game and our coach got the call to tell us our tournament was cancelled
“I was one of four seniors on the team and it was definitely emotional at the time knowing that our season was over but there wasn’t much we could do as safety was a priority. We were definitely gutted that the tournament was cancelled.”
With the NCAA cancelling all post season play not only was the season over but it also marked the end of Izayah’s collegiate career.
The former St Pat’s College, Wellington standout finished his Hornets career as a Top 10 programme leader in a variety of statistical categories including second in starts (108), fourth in steals (149), sixth in 3-pointers made (187) and eighth in assists (302). His 941 career points ranks 20thall-time for SSU.
Izayah remained in the States working on his game and admitted he was enjoying the American summer and wasn’t intending to head back to New Zealand immediately.
“Once the NBL began to take shape I decided I would play. I thought this would be a good opportunity to possibly open some doors and keep playing and training.”
Disappointed about the way his college career finished Izayah is now fully focused on the Huskies NBL campaign.
Izayah is no stranger to the NBL having played 44 games for the Wellington Saints before heading to Sacramento State.
He played with teammate Leon Henry back then and also knows some his other Huskies teammates.
“I know all the coaches and also Jaylen (Gerrand) and Ana (Haku) from playing against them when growing up.
“It’s also good to see some of the players from St Pat’s in Wellington playing for other teams. I haven’t played with or against them for a while – they are breeding some good ballers back home,” he said with a wry smile.
Despite the Huskies not having the best of starts to the current campaign Izayah knows that he and the team need to focus on the bigger picture.
“We still want to go out and compete and play hard, that’s a given. However right now it’s about developing that team chemistry and everyone getting in sync so by week four or five we are rolling.”
He debuted in the NBL in 2013 and one person the then 16-year old impressed at the time was Huskies Head Coach Kevin Braswell who remembers playing against the young Izayah.
“Izayah guarded me a lot when I was playing for Southland Sharks so I remember how hard it was to try and score on him.
“When I got to Wellington in my first year as coach he was in practice with Shea Ili, who I have great respect for, and I watched the two go back and forth at it and I thought this kid is special.
“He’s Tall Black’s calibre, he does so much on the floor – he can take on the scoring load if needed and he makes everyone else look better,” enthused Braswell.
At just 16 years old Izayah became one of the youngest players to ever put on a Tall Blacks singlet playing all 8 games on the 2013 China tour plus the two FIBA Oceania Championship games that followed against Australia.
Following the Sal’s NBL Izayah is hoping to secure another contract, possibly in the Australian NBL, and also remind the Tall Blacks selectors of his capabilities.
“I haven’t played in New Zealand for four or five years so it’s good to be back on home soil, playing with the kiwi boys and giving it my everything.
“It’s always an honour to put on a black jersey and play with the brothers, I hope that opportunity will arise again in the future,” he concluded.
A successful season with the Huskies will certainly enhance Izayah’s chances on both counts.