Story via semphoenix.com.au, image via Photosport NZ
Sacramento State guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa (pronounced Mo-dee-oh-ho-ho Lee-ah-fuh) will represent South East Melbourne Phoenix in the NBL21 season.
The New Zealand native has signed as a development player with the Phoenix following four years in the American college system as a starter at the Sacramento State Hornets.
Mauriohooho-Le’afa played professionally for the New Zealand NBL’s Wellington Saints prior to his college career and more recently for the Auckland Huskies, where he averaged 20 points and five assists, won defensive player of the year and made the all-star five in the condensed 2020 season completed last month.
The 23-year-old was drawn to the Phoenix by the club’s values and his Kiwi connections with Reuben Te Rangi and assistant coach Judd Flavell.
“Melbourne, the team, their culture, and everything they represented (weighed into the decision),” Mauriohooho-Le’afa said. “I’ve got family in Melbourne so that was a selling point right there.”
“I pride myself on defence and guarding whoever I’m matched up with…just making the game easier for my teammates and spacing the floor by knocking down the open shot.”
In 2013, Mauriohooho-Le’afa was remarkably selected to play in the New Zealand Tall Blacks national team at the age of 16, clearly the youngest player in the squad. New Phoenix teammate Reuben Te Rangi was also a member of the team that year at age 18.
Standing at 188cm (6’2) and 91kg, Mauriohooho-Le’afa is a strong defender on top of his scoring exploits, often being called upon to stop the opposing team’s top scoring threat in his college days.
The Kiwi played plenty of rugby during his schooling at St. Patrick’s College in Wellington and will bring that same physical toughness to the Phoenix line-up.
With regular roster spots cut to 10 players in NBL21 due to COVID-19 impacts, the ability of development players to step up and impact games throughout the season has never been more important.
Phoenix Head Coach Simon Mitchell says Mauriohooho-Le’afa’s versatility and skillset on both ends of the court fits the team’s needs.
“I’m really excited to have Izayah join our group,” Mitchell said.
“He’s a multi-dimensional player as a point guard; a shooter and also brings a high level of defensive tenacity, which we’re looking for.
“He’s a good size, has good strength and we feel he has a long-term career in the NBL.”
Mauriohooho-Le’afa possesses good basketball pedigree with both his parents playing professionally and his father coaching him for eight years at high school and for the Wellington Saints.
His signing continues a busy off-season for the Phoenix, following the exciting announcements of Australian Boomer Cam Gliddon and New Zealand Tall Black Reuben Te Rangi.
Recommitments from superstar Mitch Creek, sharpshooter Kendall Stephens and rising big man Dane Pineau place the team in a healthy position to prepare for their second NBL campaign.
“We’ve set out to complete our roster with ready-made guys capable of making an instant impact regardless of their position in our squad and we think Izayah fits the bill perfectly,” Phoenix CEO Tommy Greer said.
“At 23 with years of experience at college level and in the New Zealand NBL, we think he can bolster our team whenever Simon (Mitchell) calls his number during the season.
“Our assistant coach Judd Flavell coached Izayah at the Junior Tall Blacks and thinks we’ve got a real player here. It’s also great to continue that pre-existing relationship.”
Mauriohooho-Le’afa is currently living in Sacramento and will fly to Australia in early November.
The Phoenix’s contracted roster now includes Mitch Creek, Cam Gliddon, Dane Pineau, Kyle Adnam, Adam Gibson, Kendall Stephens, Reuben Te Rangi and Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa (development player).
Two imports, one local player, a likely Next Star and an additional development player will finalise the squad.