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Wesley brothers team up to make history for Guam basketball
NONTHABURI (FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Eastern Region Pre-Qualifiers) – In the dying minutes of the game against Macau, Mekeli Wesley of the Guam national team fakes a pass to Earvin Jose on the wing before recovering and gathering to launch a three-pointer.
The ball followed a near perfect arc trajectory towards the hoop before diving into the hoop, adding another three points to Guam’s total.
The 39-year-old veteran was enjoying an extended period on the court and the long range shot rounded up his total to a tournament-high 15 points which was well-celebrated by the bench. Among the teammates rooting wildly on the sidelines were none other than his younger brothers, Russell and Tai.
“This is the first real official tournament that we’ve played in,” said Mekeli after the game. “We’ve grown up in a super tight-knit family and we’re very, very ultra-competitive so when you get the three of us on the same court, it’s usually trouble for the other teams.”
The three siblings play different roles on the team, combining their talents on the Guam national team to cause “trouble for the other teams”. The trio were key pieces on both sides of the court over the course of Guam’s 6 game undefeated run.
“it’s amazing any time you get to play with your older brothers and represent out little island like Guam,” says Tai, the youngest of the Wesley brothers at 32 years old. “It’s a special privilege and a special thing that we’ll remember for a long time.”
“You heard [Tai] said older brothers. Mekeli is older, I’m second, and he’s the young gun,” Soft-spoken 37-year-old Russell quickly chimes in.
“It’s comforting to see your brothers on the court,” Russell adds. “You know where they’re gonna be at, so you know that you can work well with each other.”
“it’s amazing that we’ve got a guy like Tai who is still a professional athlete to be on the team and kind of carry the workload so the rest of us older guys can relax a little bit,” jokes Mekeli.
Tai has arguably been Guam’s most productive player so far, putting up 13.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 3.2 assists in 5 games. He currently plays for the New Zealand Breakers in the Australian National Basketball League (NBL) where he is a two-time champion. The 6’7” forward is clearly the best among the Wesley brothers at this point of their careers, which is a product of watching the success of his brothers growing up.
Watching their big brother knock down threes and punish opposing inside players probably made Russell and Tai reminisce the days they grew up watching Mekeli play at Brigham Young University (BYU) in the NCAA.
“We lived in Guam for 6 years and then Mekeli moved to Utah where he started in basketball,” Tai explains. “We all watched him, the success he had, and how good he was. We wanted to follow in his footsteps and emulate what he did."
"We had six boys in our family and we all grew up watching our eldest brother perform on the biggest stage.”
Not only did Mekeli play in the NCAA, he was a star.
During his senior season in 2001, Mekeli was named the Mountain West Conference (MWC) Player of the Year, the MWC Tournament MVP, and an AP honorable mention All-American. He then played professionally in several countries ranging from France, Poland, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, and Mexico.
Russell continued the tradition, playing at Utah Valley University. Tai followed suit afterwards, starring at Utah State where he was named Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Player of the Year in 2011.
“Actually, dad brought them up in basketball,” Hiagi Wesley barges in, interrupting the Wesley brothers while they were recalling their basketball origins. “I coached [Mekeli] in Jr. Jazz and all of them, eventually —”
“He taught us how to shoot, taught us how to play, and we wanted to be like dad,” Mekeli adds.
“Their test was to beat me one-on-one,"explains the senior Hiagi. "And once they can beat me —”
“Once you were able to beat your dad one-on-one, then you had a lot of confidence going up against other guys your age,” concluded Tai.
“There’s six boys in our family so going up against each other made us stronger and tougher as well.” Says Meleki.
“But they all had to go up against me one-on-one.” Hiagi says with a bright grin on his face as he looked upon the success that his three sons had helped bring to the nation of Guam.
Guam secured their ticket to the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers as early as the 4th day of the competition and continued to sweep through every team in their way. They will now have the opportunity to not only play against another level of elite FIBA Asia basketball nations like China and Australia, but to also hosts big time basketball events once the Qualifiers tip off right in Guam.
“It’s never been done before so we’re making history for the team, for the program, and for the basketball in Guam,” says Mekeli, who has made plenty of history over the years himself. “When you look at the competition, when you’re an island of 160,000 people going up against countries that have millions and millions, it really says a lot about the program and what EJ Calvo has done.”
“Big thanks to EJ Calvo and the Guam family,” Russell expresses.
Calvo, head coach of the Guam national team, was recently elected as president of the Guam Basketball Federation, filling in the vacancy left when former coach Tony Thompson passed away.
“I worked closely with Thompson to accomplish several goals and objectives since he recruited me to coach our men’s team in 2012, and my focus will be to continue that progress for our program and island community to be proud of,” said Calvo when he accepted the position earlier in October.
Having qualified for the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers, Calvo and Guam has done just that and there’s only more to look forward to from them heading forward.
“Coming into this tournament, we knew how big this opportunity would be for us. That’s why we brought all of our heavy hitters and to be able to play the big guns and big dogs, is a big thing for our small island of Guam to be able to represent our island as we have,” says Tai.
“We’re very proud.”