Alexyz Vaioletama: The Comeback Kid
Colorado Springs, Colo. - June 10, 2010
2010 USA U17 World Championship Team or U.S. Youth Olympic Games Team hopeful Alexyz Vaioletama, a 6-1 forward from Fountain Valley, Calif., has been here before. She's just hoping that her experience this summer turns out a little different than last year.
The rising senior at Mater Dei High School made the 2009 USA U16 National Team here in Colorado Springs last summer. She trained with her teammates and headed to Mexico City, where over a five-day period the U.S. demolished all comers by a whopping 70.0 points per game (and no, that's not a typo). Vaioletama started all five games and contributed 7.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists an outing as the USA squad won all five games and captured the gold medal, which earned USA Basketball its berth in the 2010 FIBA U17 World Championship.
But that's not the part she wants as a do-over. During the USA Basketball trials, Vaioletama suffered from shin splints that soon became stress fractures. She knew something was wrong, but didn't want to give up the opportunity of representing her country. Vaioletama played through the pain without complaint and collected her gold medal, never realizing that her injury would keep her off the court for her entire junior season.
Her attitude, however, kept the soon to be 17-year-old a positive force on her team's bench. But don't take our word for it. USA Basketball.com sat down with Vaioletama to talk about her first USA Basketball team, her season off the court and a myriad of other topics. Read for yourself what she had to say.
What kind of experiences were you able to take from last summer's experience with the USA U16 National Team that can you bring to this year's trials?
Last summer was pretty hard. I didn't know what to expect. I knew there were a lot of great players, and I knew I had to give it my all. It was more about being a leader out there and playing for yourself, but not only yourself, also your family and the USA. Another thing I learned was to play with no regrets " go out there and give it everything you've got.
You got stress fractures in your legs last summer. How did that come about?
They started as shin splints and turned into stress fractures. We did some treatment here (at the U.S. Olympic Training Center), and I told them that I didn't want to know what it was. I did not want to know until after the USA tryouts. I think it was like the third game in and they told my parents that I did have stress fractures, but it didn't stop me from playing or anything. I knew that after USA Basketball I had to rest. Then I went to the doctor's and was told that I wasn't going to be able to play this whole year.
It was devastating, but at the same time I learned a lot more being on the bench and seeing things that we needed to improve on, our team needed to improve on and the things that I needed to improve on as a leader, seeing those little things that the coach got irritated about.
Did you help the coaching staff out on the bench?
Yeah, I did. It was more about being positive to our teammates, letting them know what they did wrong. If you hear it from a coach, you're kind of hesitant about doing it again. But if you hear it from a teammate, you kind of go, â€˜okay, this is what I need to do.' Instead of having someone yell at you and tell you what you need to do.
Was it a difficult transformation from being devastated to turning your injury into a positive?
The first month was hard because I didn't know what to do. I was in therapy thinking â€˜coach needs me. My team needs me.' Other than that, it helped the other players step up to the plate and give it all they've got instead of just depending on me, Jordan (Adams) or Kaleena (Lewis). It was as important for me to get my rest as much as it was for other players to get to play.
And how long have you been injury free?
I would say about two months.
Did you fear that the injury would keep you from being invited back?
I don't know. I wasn't sure. It's a great opportunity, but if I wasn't invited, I would totally understand. And if I was invited, I would go out there and give it all I've got like I did last year.
Is it good to be back in familiar surroundings?
Yes. It's great to be back. Being around my old teammates, being around Jordan and Kaleena, seeing new people, seeing the 18-and-under team from the skills academy up in Oregon, it's a really good environment because you compete against the best, but yet you're playing with the best.
Is there anyone out here you're looking forward to going up against?
I'm looking forward to going up against everyone.
On another note, what are your four or five favorite movies?
Finding Nemo, the Lion King would be another one, the Bourne Identity, Rush Hour 3 and Seven Pounds. I'm kind of all over the place.
What's your favorite book?
I would have to say that the best book I've read is The Razor's Edge. It's about a man going off to war. He comes back and pictures himself totally different. He's more outgoing, living life to its fullest and he has no regrets or anything like that. Yet he's not sure if he wants to marry this girl or not. He's just kind of all over the place.
Do you have family members in the military, is that why it struck a chord with you?
Yes. I have about three cousins and four uncles in the military. They're all currently serving, and all of them have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
What's your prediction for the NBA champion?
I'm rooting for the Lakers because they're our hometown team. Also, our coach loves the Celtics, and we disagree on certain things. That's the whole reason we're going for the Lakers " just to make him mad.
What's your favorite team?
I would say the Cavs because of LeBron (James).
Do you have any siblings?
Yes. I have two sisters in Florida who live with my dad. I have two brothers who live with me, my mom and my stepdad. I have a stepbrother who lives in London, Lloyd, and then I have a stepbrother and stepsister in Florida too.
Are you close with all of them and are you able to visit often?
Yes, I'm close with all of them. I'm able to see them here and there, once in awhile when we have a vacation. It's very rare.
Do they all play sports?
They all play basketball or (run) track.
Who's got the most skills?
I would say my little brother, Jonah. He loves basketball. Out of all of them, I would say him because he loves it. He knows the scores, he knows their averages. He knows everything about every player in the NBA.
Do you play any other sports?
I play volleyball, but it's fading away because basketball is becoming pretty dominant.
Have you narrowed down your choices for college yet?
Lately things have been a little hectic, but I've narrowed my list down. I have Cal, Tennessee, USC, Boston College, Florida and â€¦ that's about it.
What do you want to study?
I was thinking sports management. I was thinking about becoming an agent, but more being around the USA Basketball area, do something with USA Basketball.
And speaking of USA Basketball, how have your trials been going for you so far this year?
I feel pretty good. I would say it was kind of a hard start with all the warm-ups and trying to get my rhythm together, conditioning, but overall I think I'm doing okay. I'm not satisfied from what I've done so far, but I have two more days to pick it up.