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Rural Alaska

Barrow basketball star hopes to make splash in college scene

  • Author: Van Williams
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published July 14, 2012

Big things await Barrow's Lynette Hepa.

The 6-foot-4, all-state center could play college basketball for a big school in a big city.

Ask her though, and she prefers the smaller things in life.

"I'm just a small-town girl," she said. "I don't know if I want to go to a big university. Like in Seattle, it takes forever to drive anywhere."

Hepa is currently traveling the West Coast with an Alaska select team called Tree of Hope, which is closely affiliated with the Seattle-based AAU program responsible for getting tons of players to college.

The team will tour colleges and play in summer tournaments in front of dozens of college coaches.

It's the kind of national exposure you can't duplicate in Alaska.

The Tree of Hope Alaska team is coached by Stanley Engel, the girls' varsity head coach at West Anchorage High School.

His daughter Keiahnna Engel was a two-time Alaska class-4A Player of the Year who is now starring at Boise State University.

She is among a handful of Alaska girls who went from Tree of Hope to the NCAA.

"We're trying to get our kids seen," Engel said. "When you come out to these big-time tournaments, college coaches come out to watch players, not teams."

The Tree of Hope Alaska team will also participate in the prestigious Oregon City, Ore., tournament, where they could play in front of up to 100 college coaches per game.

"It's pretty exciting," Hepa said.

Of course, college coaches are already aware of the Whaler wonder and 2013 player-of-the-year favorite.

Hepa is the only class-3A Alaska player of her travel team, with the rest being from larger 4A schools.

While in Seattle, the Alaska team has practiced and scrimmaged with its sister team out of Seattle. It's like a different world, Hepa said.

"Down here things are more fast-paced," she said. "All these girls are fast, so it's more of a running game."

Away from basketball, the Alaska players are encouraged to visit colleges in the area. Engels will even drive them.

So far, Hepa has visited the University of Washington and Seattle Pacific University.

Hepa said she plans to make her college decision later in the year.

"A lot of people are asking me about it," she said. "Right now it's about exposure and getting better for this upcoming season. Basketball never stops."

Van Williams can be reached at

This article originally appeared in The Arctic Sounder and is reprinted here with permission.

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