WESLEY CHERISHED REPPING GU

WESLEY CHERISHED REPPING GU

📅03 January 2014
Share this article:

Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success. – Napoleon Hill

By Patrick Lujan

Guam's men's basketball team finished an impressive third place in November's FIBA Pacific Oceania Basketball Championships in New Zealand.

Guam’s men’s basketball team finished an impressive third place in November’s FIBA Pacific Oceania Basketball Championships in New Zealand.

For decades, Guam’s men’s national basketball team has been one of the best in the Pacific with countless medals in regional competition.

One constant challenge has been the lack of height in a tall man’s game.

Patience

It wasn’t until recently when the national team finally got a former (tall) Guam resident to dawn our jersey to represent our island.

6-foot-8 Mekeli Wesley, who attended Agueda Johnston Middle School and Father Duenas Memorial in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, finally made the team after years of trying to get him on.

In middle school and his freshman year, Mekeli would play against some of Guam’s finest ballers who would go on to play for the national team as well – the likes of Chris Fernandez, Arnold Mesa, Jr., Mike Lee, Darrick Bollinger, E.J. Calvo and Eddie Pelkey. But because of his collegiate commitment to BYU where he had a four-year career tacked on with a six-year pro career in Europe, Wesley’s window of opportunity to play for Guam was always shut, despite the efforts by Guam Basketball to get him to play.

Persistence

Persistence by current national head coach E.J. Calvo paid off – and it doesn’t hurt to be former teammates as well.

“E.J. and I were teammates at Father Duenas, so when he got the head coaching job, he reached out to me to see if I had interested of representing Guam,” Wesley said from his Utah home. “I was excited about it. He saw me on Facebook and sent me a message. We tried (to qualify for) the East Asian Games, but the paperwork with FIBA wasn’t finalized. I wasn’t cleared to play until the Oceania Games.”

Wesley and shooting guard J.P. Cruz during the New Zealand tournament. (courtesy photo)

Wesley and shooting guard J.P. Cruz during the New Zealand tournament. (courtesy photo)

“Not very persistent,” Coach Calvo said about the effortless recruiting. “Once I made contact, Mekeli was eager to represent Guam. It was just about completing paperwork and qualifying him with FIBA.”

Since Calvo took over the men’s team in January 2012, Team Guam has become a very formidable nucleus of the island’s best. Finally getting scoring machine J.P. Cruz on the national squad was another coup for Calvo.

But it was getting Wesley on the team that was the golden nugget.

Acquiring transcripts from the Department of Education proving that Wesley attended school on Guam sealed the deal.

After moral victories in the 6th East Asian Games in October which included a win over Hong Kong, the focus was on the  2013 FIBA Pacific Championships in New Zealand the following month.

While the players on Guam worked feverishly on conditioning and play execution, Wesley and fellow big man De’Andre Walker were studying the plays from afar before the team met in New Zealand just days before competition.

“It definitely helped to know what to do and he was very good at making it very simple,” Wesley said about getting the Guam plays from Calvo in advance. “I didn’t have to learn the four (power forward), just the five (center). I think the videos really helped and once we got there, we made adjustments.

“It was the first time I met all of them,” the 34-year-old said about his new teammates. “I didn’t know what to expect or what kind of style Team Guam played.”

 Perspiration

With little time to acclimate to the time zone and just as little time to feel each other out in practice, Team Guam jumped right in to the competition against the Pacific’s best teams.

“Mekeli adjusted quickly to our style and playbook – he’s a pro,” Coach Calvo commented. “The problem was more that our guards were not used to such a big target in the post. Mekeli is extremely good at recognizing double-teams and passing out of the post to our three-point shooters.”

“They would throw it in to the post and I would find shooters for the open shot because the defense would have to collapse on me. I also clogged up the lane a little bit. I think the guys benefited from that,” Wesley said about his 6-foot-8 presence in the paint.

After blowing out Tahiti and New Caledonia by an average of 20 points in pool play, only a buzzer-beating loss to Australia’s U18 team kept Guam from a perfect pool play record.

“I’m sure a lot of the guys were nervous, as was I, but it was more of excitement than nervousness,” Wesley said about the start of the tournament. “It was definitely a shock to my body. My legs were cramping up and was pretty sore, but as the tournament wore on, I was getting stronger (six games in seven days). I wish I was in a little bit in better shape to help the team more.”

Wesley also got a chance to see Guam’s relentless defense first-hand – a long-time staple in international play.

“We were very good at causing the ball over,” he said about his ball-hawking teammates. “You can tell these guys are very scrappy and they were the defensive-minded team. Pressuring the ball was a natural thing for them.”

After buzzer-beater losses, Guam finished with the bronze medal. (courtesy photo)

After buzzer-beater losses, Guam finished with the bronze medal. (courtesy photo)

Crushing Fiji 72-58 advanced Guam to the semifinals where they suffered yet another heartbreaker to New Zealand. “We wanted to win the gold medal,” Wesley said. “The encouraging thing is we could’ve been undefeated. We lost both on buzzer-beaters. We were in control of most of the games.”

After the tough loss in the semifinals, Guam went on to take the bronze medal over Samoa 88-76 with Wesley leading the way with 24 points and earned Guam’s lone spot on the All-Tournament team.

“I did not shoot free throws like I normally do, and it hurt our team. I’m normally at 80%, but I was shooting 60% in the tournament, that was bad for me.

“I’ll never forget the closing ceremony, how proud we felt being on the podium. It wasn’t what we wanted, but there was so much pride and how we represented Guam.”

Success

With such success comes higher hopes and expectations.

First, Mekeli would love to come back to Guam and play in front of the fans for Team Guam.

“I would love to. As long as they want me to play and I feel that I can contribute at a somewhat high level, I’m happy to do so. A tournament on Guam, it would be awesome to go back to my old middle school Agueda and FD, I would be all for it. It would be fun.”

Oh, and did we mention there’s a younger Wesley who’s willing to suite up for Guam as well?

“Mekeli’s younger brother (Tai) lived on Guam longer than he did as a kid. He is 6’7″ and currently playing professionally in Europe. He’s also interested in representing Guam. At only 27-years-old, Guam can build around a true big-man for several years to come and climb the FIBA rankings!,” Coach Calvo added.

“He would be a tremendous player for Guam, especially he’s in the prime of his career,” Mekeli said about his younger brother who was in kindergarten on Guam when his older brother was playing for the Agueda Pirates. “If we can get the two of us for (Pacific Games), we’d be the favorites to win it.”

NOTES

Seve Susuico provided the tension relief for Team Guam, according to Wesley. (Seve's Facebook photo)

Seve Susuico provided the tension relief for Team Guam, according to Wesley. (Seve’s Facebook photo)

On J.P. Cruz: “He hit some amazing shots – he’s undersized but his shots are quick and he should’ve been on the All-Tournament team. Anytime our team needed a big basket, our team went to him.”

On other teammates: “The tenacity of Will (Stinnett) and Earvin (Jose), they played well. Jin (Han) played very tough, he being the oldest guy on the team. Everyone really impressed me with the will to win and how they played.”

On Seve Susuico: “I think everyone kind of gravitated toward Seve and his personality. The sense of humor, he always lightened the mood. The comraderie of the guys, how we all stuck together, and how we all gravitated to Seve’s personality.”

On the tournament format: “It was pretty tough.”

On sharing his experiences with Team Guam: “We had some long conversations about basketball and past experiences. I think the team looked at me for leadership both on and off the floor. It was a great group of guys. Leadership and experience, playing in Europe for six years and playing four years at a D-I school all really helped.”

Mekeli was the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year for BYU in 2001. Brother Tai was the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year for Utah State in 2011.

Share this article: