Jordan’s Mae Afoa signs with Utah Valley UniversityNov 24, 2020 03:07PM ● By Tavia Dutson
Mae Afoa goes up for a layup in a game against West Jordan last season. (Photo courtesy of Mae Afoa)
By Tavia Dutson | [email protected]
When Gov. Gary Herbert announced a two-week mandate on Nov. 8 postponing extracurricular activities, high school sports came to a halt. Although sports fans were undoubtedly disappointed, they had one thing to look forward to—National Signing Day.
On Nov. 11, high school athletes across the country signed Letters of Intent to the college programs they had been recruited to. One of these all-star athletes is Jordan High School’s Mae Afoa.
It might be daunting for most high school players to imagine moving into a college program, but Afoa is used to competing with the big dogs. When she began playing club basketball at age 10, her mom signed her up for a boys’ team. After two years, Afoa moved to a girls’ team at the same club. But it wasn’t just any girls’ team. Afoa was playing with girls two years older than her.
“I think it’s helped me out a lot. I’ve always kind of been the worst on the team, but when I play with girls my age, I feel more developed,” Afoa said.
When Afoa was a freshman, she had the opportunity to join a Nike sponsored EYBL team. This allowed her to travel across the country to some of her now favorite places like Chicago. In these tournaments, she was able to compete against some of the top prospects in the nation including multiple ESPN top 100 recruits.
“At these tournaments all the D1 and D2 schools are there, just sitting on the side of the court,” Afoa said. “It was so scary, but definitely invited a lot of exposure.”
When Afoa started her college search, she was certain she would end up outside of Utah. But as she talked to coaches and had discussions about her priorities, one thing kept coming up—her family.
“I found myself frequently saying that family is most important to me,” she said. “Then when COVID hit, I realized if I was out of state and unable to travel home during the pandemic, I would not be able to function.”
With this realization, Afoa narrowed down her long list of interested programs to four universities: Dixie, Utah State, Utah Valley and Weber State. To evaluate these schools, she focused on which would provide her with the best atmosphere.
“I wanted to be at a place where I felt comfortable being myself and playing the game that I can play,” Afoa said.
When she looked into UVU, she felt it fulfilled that requirement and more. Afoa got along well with the coaches and other girls on the team. She knew she would fit right in.
“Immediately, when I talked to the UVU coach our chemistry was there. Conversations flowed effortlessly, it was amazing,” Afoa said.
Coach Dan Nielson and his staff had previously coached at BYU, where Afoa had attended basketball camps growing up. They had seen her develop and were excited to see how they could coach her at the next level.
Not only is Afoa familiar with the coaches, she knows many of the girls as well. UVU prioritizes in-state recruiting, so Afoa has played with many girls on the current roster and fellow signee Ally Blackman from Skyridge High School.
As Afoa’s high school coach Tallon Robertson can attest to, her ability to play college ball has taken hard work and dedication.
“She’s a girl that is always staying after to get some shots up, always asking when the gym is open,” Robertson said.
Her motivation for the late nights and early mornings comes down to a love of the game. When she first started playing on boys’ teams, she would just show up wherever her mom took her. But with the time and commitment that her mom, jokingly referred to as her “manager,” put in, Afoa was able to commit to the love of the game.
“My mom was the one who took me to all my practices, went to all my games,” she said. “She’s been really involved in my basketball career.”
As Afoa leaves the prep scene for greener pastures, she wants to remind girls that there are many opportunities outside of the small basketball world in Utah. She was able to learn from the different coaching styles and players that she came in contact with while traveling.
Although the Beetdiggers will miss their all-state player and two-time MVP, they won’t have to travel far to see her play as a UVU Wolverine.