COURTESY OF MENLO COLLEGE
Kepua Lee was the leading scorer for Menlo College in 16 of 25 games and scored in double figures 20 times.
Lee avoids sophomore jinx
The Moanalua grad has picked up her scoring after a stellar freshman year
KEPUA Lee has taken on the role of catalyst in her sophomore season with the Menlo College women's basketball team.
She has performed even better this year than last, when she was the California Pacific Conference Freshman of the Year.
Lee is a big reason the Oaks (22-3) have set a program record for wins, winning percentage (.880) and most consecutive wins (16). Menlo is ranked 11th nationally in the NAIA Division II poll, the Oaks' highest ranking in the eight-year history of the program.
It was senior night last Saturday and Lee was determined to make sure it was a special night for her five senior teammates. She tied her career high with 29 points and set the school's single-season scoring record in the process. Her follow-up layup with 14:52 to go in the second half elevated Lee past former Punahou standout Ki'i Vasconcellos, who scored 407 points in the 2003-04 season.
"We had a little ceremony before the game, not after like in Hawaii. It was hard for most of us, but no one cried," said Lee. "I don't know what got into me, but I felt really good. We had a big crowd and I like playing in front of big crowds. It pumped me up a bit."
The Oaks finished the regular season undefeated at home and won the Cal Pac title for the first time in six years, earning byes in the first two rounds of the postseason tournament. Lee now has 412 points entering the Oaks' tournament opener tomorrow.
Lee has led the Oaks in scoring in 16 of 25 games, scored in double figures 20 times and had seven double-figure rebound games. The 5-foot-8 wing player has hit the nets for 20 or more points nine times.
The Moanalua graduate's offensive prowess earned her Cal Pac Player of the Week honors four times this season.
"I've been playing basketball since I could possibly walk," said Lee, who also played volleyball and softball at Moanalua.
"My biggest thing is coming through in the clutch," she added. "I want my team to win in the end. I just try to be unstoppable. I've had the best defender on me, but I find a way to get my shots in and get my double figures."
COURTESY OF MENLO COLLEGE
Kepua Lee is one of the reasons the Oaks are ranked No. 11 in the NAIA Division II poll.
Lee did not rest on her freshman accomplishments. She was primarily a slasher last year, driving to the basket to get her points. During the summer she worked on developing a jump shot, especially the pull-up jumper from 12 to 15 feet.
Having added that to her offensive arsenal, she already knows what needs work this summer -- scoring from beyond the arc.
"I don't shoot many 3s because I'm not consistent enough," said Lee, who understands her role.
"It is a big step and a big responsibility to become the go-to player on the team as a sophomore. Coach trusts in my ability to score and lead the team."
Menlo coach Caitlin Collier has seen Lee mature as a person and player since she chose Menlo over Southern Methodist and Mesa State.
"Kepua has come so far in her leadership skills. She has had to improve her leadership because she is our go-to player," Collier said. "She has a positive mentality, displays a tremendous amount of personal confidence and she is very, very competitive."
Collier also said Lee has upgraded her game this year to compensate for being tabbed as a scoring threat by opponents.
"Kepua's biggest improvement is she knows how to read defenses better," Collier said.
"That's a sign of maturity in a basketball player. She knows how to attack different defenders as a scorer.
"Kepua has an absolute desire to get the ball. She basically is in on every play and is not afraid of contact."
Lee went through a transition period when she first stepped on the Atherton, Calif., campus two years ago.
"I struggled through the preseason. We had to run a mile in 7 minutes. I never made it from September to Oct. 15 (the start of official practice). I would do 7:10, 7:12 and had to join the acorn class that runs every morning at 6 a.m., before getting to an 8:10 class," Lee said.
"I worked hard and stuck with it. I captured a starting position and played in a lot of games although I don't play defense that well.
"At Moanalua we had a different structure and I had my own high school habits. I wasn't in the right place or didn't do the right thing. I got my share of scoldings, but I've matured and grown in the last year."
She credits her rebounding ability to being an aggressive player and her strength makes it difficult to box her out.
Lee has a good chance of setting the single-season record for scoring average. She is at 17.2 points a game, ahead of Vasconcellos' record of 16.3. Menlo's career points leader is senior teammate Nicole Johnson with 934. Lee already has scored 767 points.
Earlier this season, she was voted the Most Valuable Player of the Peninsula Hoops Classic and was on the Southern California Division III Tip-off Classic All-Tournament team.
Lee became interested in Menlo when a recruiter from the school, Sarah Sato, came to Moanalua and her career service counselor advised her to attend the presentation. Lee made an official visit to Menlo after graduation.
"I had never been to the mainland. My mom, Desiree, thought Mesa State would be too cold and Texas is so big and scary and I would have no way to get around," Lee said.
"The Menlo campus is in a residential, safe area, has a small student body and there is a Safeway and Target close by so I can live on my own."
Collier had been alerted to Lee's potential by Doris Sullivan of the Pacific Islands Athletics Alliance, an organization that helps student-athletes connect with colleges.
"We liked her film. I could tell she was athletic, strong and could score. It went from there," said Collier, who indicated Lee would be one of her captains next year.
Lee is a liberal arts major with a concentration on psychology, and she plans to attend graduate school for a masters degree in either accounting or business management.
Shannon Riley (Maryknoll '02) and Kelci Fushikoshi (Lahainaluna '05) also have contributed to Menlo's success this season.
Riley, a 5-6 senior point guard, is the only four-year captain in the program's history.
"Shannon is one of the best leaders we have ever had, an outstanding point guard," Collier said. "She thrives on the leadership role, keeps the team together and has matured into a good 3-point shooter.
"I'm going to be sorry to see her go."
Riley is averaging eight points a game and leads the Oaks with 87 assists and 38 steals. Fushikoshi averages 5.1 ppg.
"Kelci is going to be looked on in a scoring role next year so we will have two wings capable of scoring," Collier said.