Photo courtesy Bill Hess
Standing-room only crowds and iPhone cameras usually greet the Barrow boys basketball team when it comes to town.
No matter where the Whalers go, they get celebrity treatment.
The crowds come to watch player-of-the-year Kamaka Hepa – the 6-foot-9 can’t-miss college prospect with big time written all over him.
But they leave talking about Travis Adams as well – a gritty 5-9 point guard that has passion, poise and playmaker skills you can’t ignore.
“He’s his own guy,” Barrow coach Jeremy Arnhart told me. “He brings a lot of dimensions to our team.”
Hepa has won the Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year honor in each of his first two years in high school and joined Adams on the all-state team both years.
With those two leading the way, Barrow won the school’s first state championship for boys hoops last year and have posted a career record of 48-7 heading into this week’s ASAA/First National Bank Alaska Class 3A state tournament in Anchorage.
Hepa is averaging 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocked shots and 2.8 assists per game.
Adams is averaging 16.7 points, 5.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game.
Together, they make up Alaska’s most potent 1-2 punch on the hardwood.
“We both push each other. Ever since we were little kids we have pushed each other to get better,” Adams told me. “I think that’s the big thing now. All the games we played together as kids is starting to show.”
They have unmistakable chemistry and take turns feeding off each other, at times playing their own inner game of ‘anything you can do I can do better.’
“He can get it done in the clutch and if not I can,” Adams said. “It’s really good that we have two guys that really know how to play and really know how to play together and don’t really care who is shining. We both just want to win.”
Even riding shotgun, though, Adams has the ability to drive Barrow to the winner’s circle.
The best example of that was at the Doc Larson Roundball Classic in Wasilla in December, when he put the Whalers on his back in the tournament championship game against Coronado of Las Vegas.
Adams pumped in 30 points and secured a 78-77 victory after he was fouled attempting a halfcourt shot and sank three consecutive free throws as time expired.
“He plays hard,” Arnhart said. “He will give you everything he’s got in every game.”
Adams gets to the rim as good as any guard in the state and easily has the best layup game – reverse, dipsy-do, high off glass, hang-and-bang; you name it, he can do it.
“I think it’s because I have played with Kamaka all my life,” he said. “I have to get the ball way over his long arms. It really alters my shots and makes me do these underhand layups, reverse, whatever.
“You see all these high school kids have acrobatic dunks, and if you can’t dunk, you look good by hitting a cool layup, which isn’t that cool but it’s the best I can do. Sometimes a layup is a little flashy too.”
Arnhart, who has won 186 games in 10 seasons at Barrow, allows Adams to play with freedom without fear of limitation. It’s not like Arnhart lets his star guard go all And-1 Mix Tape in games, but at the same time the coach doesn’t want to hold back such a creative playmaker.
“When you’ve got someone that can do a lot of different things and do them well, it’s pretty exciting,” Arnhart said. “And of course he’ll make some great passes for assists throughout the game and that builds his mojo up a little bit.
“You give him free reign but at times you want to pull him back. It’s a thin line with him. He might turn the ball over trying to make the fancy play, but he’ll make four great plays and maybe turn it over once. You live with those odds.”
Van Williams is a freelance writer in Anchorage and a correspondent with the Alaska School Activities Association.