Saint Louis ends pick California
The bookends will stay together in college but may not play right away
Saint Louis defensive ends Solomona Aigamaua and Scott Smith will remain teammates after giving Cal their commitments to play football next season.
Now, the talented two-sport stars won't have any more trips -- Oregon had been on the schedule for Smith this week -- to distract from their other priorities.
"Oregon still wants me to take the trip," he said yesterday.
Aigamaua was a bit more relaxed. "Now, I can concentrate on school and basketball," he said.
Aigamaua and Smith were recruited near and far, with pronounced attention from Pac 10 programs. They took the past 24 hours to call coaches near and far to inform them of their decisions. They turned down offers from Hawaii and a bevy of schools, including several from the Pac 10.
By this morning, they could see light at the end of the tunnel.
"I feel like it's like a burden just dropped off my back right now," said Aigamaua, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior.
Smith, a 6-7, 240-pound senior, felt the same relief. The end is not quite here yet, though, especially since letter-of-intent signing day is not for another three weeks.
The two bookends came about their final decisions in separate ways. Aigamaua grew up in American Samoa dreaming of playing for Oregon, but his strength as a scholar athlete -- he carries a 3.7 grade-point average -- made Cal a clear favorite.
Smith was torn between Cal, Arizona and Washington, but heeded the advice of his parents regarding Cal's sterling reputation in academics.
"All the schools are good, but Cal is the best pick because my parents like the academic factor and they're also one of the top football teams," he said.
The only two schools the pair had visited so far were Oregon State and Cal. During their visit to Berkeley earlier in the month, Smith and Aigamaua were hosted by former local standouts Tyson Alualu (Saint Louis) and Mika Kane (Kamehameha).
When the two players conferred on Wednesday and learned that they both liked Cal, Smith's decision was solidified.
"It helps that my friend 'Mona committed, too. It's always easier when your teammate commits with you," said Smith, who stars on the Crusaders basketball team. Aigamaua is a key contributor for the team, which is ranked No. 2 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10.
"I didn't really know Scott was gonna go to Cal. On the trip, he wasn't really leaning towards them. He was leaning toward Arizona a lot. We both had different opinions," Aigamaua said.
The two players aren't guaranteed to suit up next year.
"They said it depends on me," said Aigamaua, who plans to gain plenty of weight after basketball season. "If I think I'm ready to come out and compete, it just depends on how it goes. I probably might want to redshirt because I want to get used to college life."
That wait would not be a problem, he said. "They tell me it's way different from high school. Then by next year, I'll be better prepared," Aigamaua said.
Smith has more weight and is fairly optimistic about the fall. "They like the way my dad trains me. If I prepare the right way, I'll have a chance at playing. It doesn't matter to me if I redshirt or not," he said.
Tengan, who also coaches the Saint Louis basketball team, is proud of both youngsters.
"I think the toughest thing for the both of them has been, No. 1, the time management. They've had to balance school, school work, basketball practice and games, and the recruiting process. Trips, home visits, telephone calls at home, which interrupts rest and studying," the longtime coach said.
The combination of work ethic and maturity in academics and athletics is what Tengan, a teacher at the school, will remember well.
"Any time you have kids that work hard and do all the things you ask of them to help your program be a success, I'm just happy for both of them. It's a prime example of guys taking care of business in the classroom as well as on the athletic field, to see them choose a place they really want to go to, a lot of guys want to go to certain schools and never get that opportunity," Tengan said.
"Their parents did a great job preparing them."
Smith, one of the top basketball players in the state, is already putting the football stress behind himself.
"I can't wait until Wednesday," he said. "We play Punahou."