Waianae's Junior Faliuga and Xiro Naovalath don't know much about each other's history, but they've already developed a bond on the basketball court.

Not your ordinary

Xiro has made the move
from Laos to Minnesota
to Waianae hoops standout

LONGTIME rival Nanakuli and its fans filled Waianae's gym last Friday night, neither team in position to afford many more losses in the Oahu Interscholastic Association West basketball race.

The visiting Golden Hawks hung tough, trailing 18-15 after one quarter. Then Xiro Naovalath got hot. He lit up the scoreboard with 16 points in the second quarter and the Seariders went on to a 67-51 win. In all, Naovalath drained seven treys and finished with 40 points, the OIA's season-high so far.

Naovalath, known to family and friends as "Low," has a game that is all about superior quickness. He handles full-court pressure with patient, crisp dribbles, changing speed instantly, using spin moves -- part street ball, part basic fundamentals. He swishes treys and picks careless guards clean for easy layups.

Last night, the Seariders hosted Aiea, trying to improve to 3-4 in the OIA.

"We need to keep our turnovers down," said co-captain Dewey Davis, a third-year varsity player. "We tend to rush and force our shots. Our role players need to hit their shots. Low puts points up there, especially in the first half, and we need to step up."

Though he has high expectations, coach Kendall Maeda has enjoyed the season so far. "This is a good bunch of kids, a tight-knit group. It's been a pleasure to coach them," he said. "What you see with Xiro is what you get. He's a very coachable kid."

Xiro Naovalath's quickness is a big reason why he's the OIA's leading scorer.

HIS TWO FEET have trod in places seen more commonly on the Travel Channel. Born in Savanket, Laos, he was 3 when the Naovalath clan moved to Minnesota. Suburban life didn't fit. A year later, they were in the city. "We had relatives there," Naovalath said, including close family friends like Naovalath's godfather, Vien Siarath. By fifth grade, Naovalath was a fixture at North Commons Park, playing in leagues, clinics and pickup games. By the time he was at North Commons High School, he excelled in football and soccer, as well as hoops.

Siarath never adjusted to the harsh climate and moved to Hawaii. While in the islands, a kidney failed, and he received a transplant. Siarath was ailing and needed help with his three young children. Naovalath never hesitated. He arrived at Siarath's Waianae home in November and began tending to daily, mundane tasks: grocery shopping, cleaning house, fetching things for his godfather. It wasn't long before Siarath was healthy enough to get back to work. The adults in the house are en route to Kahuku by 7 a.m., gone until 10 p.m., seven days a week.

"That's the life of farmers," Naovalath said. So, he, cousin Anthony Douangmala and other relatives keep things in order for the younger kids.

He sometimes works on the farm, but most of his waking days are spent on the Waianae campus. This season, without the benefit of summer league play, the Seariders began with guarded optimism. Co-captains Davis and Junior Faliuga knew about a new kid. Naovalath already had a rep on campus. "We heard he played on a traveling team in Minnesota, so he must've been good," Davis said.

The only difference, really, between him and his classmates is simple: The slightly-built, 5-foot-8 senior leads the Oahu Interscholastic Association in scoring. There isn't another player in the league close to averaging 30 points per game like Naovalath. Sometimes he misses home. He doesn't bring either topic up. He just keeps trodding on Waianae Valley Road, between home and school, one day at a time.

"JUNIOR" IS JUST FINE by Siavalua Faliuga Jr., who is, indeed, a junior. Like Naovalath, he came to the states at age 3. Born in the high mountain village of Aoloau in American Samoa, he has some understanding of his native language. He prefers "Junior" over his given name.

At 6-1 and 180 pounds, he's a quick defensive end on the football team. On the hardwood, his hops are exceptional, giving him the ability to outjump centers much taller. Just don't expect him to throw down sensational dunks on the open floor. He's a two-footed jumper better suited to board work than to something like Josh Smith's Atlanta Hawks highlights. "Junior, to me, you give him the ball, something good's gonna happen," Naovalath said. "He'll score or kick it out."

While Naovalath is still fluent in Laotian, Faliuga doesn't speak Samoan as well as he can understand it. Faliuga and Naovalath, the team's rebounding and scoring leaders, know so little of each other's history. But they click on and off the court. Laid back, slow to anger, quick to laugh, bonded through basketball.

THE MOOD IS LIGHT at the Waianae gym on a Saturday afternoon. The pristine water of the Leeward Coast is a stone's throw away, and the sun is scorching, an easy 85 degrees.

In Minneapolis, it's a "good" day: a balmy 35 degrees. He's a long way from North Commons, but Naovalath smiles anyway. "Everybody here is pretty friendly, not looking for fights like back there," he said. Schoolwork is going pretty well, except for Hawaiian history. "I gotta ask our stat girl Nalei (Halemano) for help on that." Halemano is also the student body president.

Naovalath has adjusted more easily to local basketball than local food. "Spam musubi. I can relate to it. But what's that thing? Manapua? They said that was good, but it just don't taste right," he said. Faliuga, a manapua aficionado, shakes his head.

There are other cultural differences. "Over there (in Minnesota), you got girls who'll come up and talk to you," Naovalath said. "Here, you gotta approach them, but sometimes they talk and I can't understand 'em," he said, referring to pidgin English. "But I'm learning."

For all his quickness on the court, Naovalath has learned patience off of it. "The playoffs are our goal," he said. "But we have to take it one day at a time."

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