Kamehameha graduate Yasso packs bags for Vermont with basketball purse


Kaupena Yasso packs his considerable skills in basketball, a food cooler and the aloha spirit in Vermont, where he will play ball for Castleton University.

Never heard of it?

Well, neither did the recent Kamehameha graduate, until trainer Mea Wong put him in touch with the Division III school over 4,900 miles from his home.

Yasso reached out to the coaching staff, uploaded a video of the highlights and landed an academic scholarship from the Spartans, who finished 4-21 in the 2019-20 season.

The Spartans liked the 6-foot-2 goalie’s scoring ability – his range for shooting 3 points and posting work in the paint. But still, Vermont is on the east coast and hit single-digit numbers in January.

Aloalii and Jodi Yasso were a little worried that their son, who will be majoring in business management and marketing, was so far from home. It’s a 13-hour flight to a state famous for its covered wooden bridges and ski trails.

The Spartans even have alpine ski, ice hockey and Nordic ski teams. If Hawaii is famous for its North Shore surfing, then Vermont is claiming ice.

“At first they were hesitant because of the location,” said Yasso, who made the All-BIIF first team as a junior in 2020. “But after speaking with the coaches it helped me in my decision, and they saw it as a great opportunity for me.

His father is 5-10 years old and his mother 5-4 years old, but Yasso is lucky to have height and a lifelong coach because Aloalii played ball in Maui. Yasso started basketball at age 7 with the Keaau Chargers, coached by his father.

In his fourth year, he joined Randy “The Helicopter” Apele’s Hoop Dreams club team and traveled to continental tournaments every summer.

“Since I was a kid, my dad gave me a mental advantage,” Yasso said. “He made me a harder player and basically taught me everything I know.

“Since playing for Coach Randy’s team, I’ve been a much smarter basketball player and learned how to play better basketball as a team. He helped me improve my vision of passing and court. Kiai Apele (the guard of UH-Hilo) is like my brother and best friend. He really pushes me to practice, and here we go. It helped my intensity.

When Yasso was under Wong’s wing, he sharpened another important intangible element.

“I improved my leadership skills,” he said. “And basketball practice every day,” he said. “I never lifted weights until I trained with Coach Mea. I have become much stronger over the years. My father taught me all of my post movements. The one he pierced me the most was a simple fall step.

The last time Yasso played ball was against Hawaii Prep in February, during the short high school season. Since then, he has been training with Hoop Dreams, who will leave on July 26 for a tournament in Las Vegas.

In the team are Kaukahi Alameda (Hilo); Emery Eberhard (Honokaa), who signed with UH-Hilo; Koby Tabuyo-Kahele (Kamehameha); Jake Iwasaki (Kamehameha), a future senior; Braedy Yamada (Kamehameha), a future senior; Kaleb Guerrero (Kamehameha), an upcoming sophomore; Jaden Hall (Saint Louis of Oahu); and Kiai Yasso (Kamehameha), an upcoming freshman.

Yasso’s younger brother is already 5-11 years old and has the ball handling skills to play guard.

“He’s a lot more athletic than me. But that’s it, ”Yasso said, praising but making sure the youngster works hard to earn more.

One of the highlights of Yasso’s basketball was meeting this hoop idol. His favorite team is the Minnesota Timberwolves because he loves goaltender D’Angelo Russell.

“I met him once at an NBA summer camp,” Yasso said. “He was playing in the NBA Summer League as a rookie (in 2015) in Las Vegas. He’s a cool guy.

Yasso will travel to Vermont on July 18 with his parents. They will help her settle down and enjoy a mini vacation.

There’s no one from Hawaii on the list, but Yasso plans to introduce his teammates to Spam musubi and Hawaiian music, especially his favorite local artist, Fiji.

Yasso has not visited campus, so he continues his research and learning about Vermont. But at least he already knows one critical thing.

“I need to stock up on my winter clothes,” he said.

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