Kealakehe Grad Utrera Joins Camp Coach in New Jersey
Andy Smith has dedicated himself to giving high school basketball players from across the state an opportunity to play at the next level through his Hawai’i Island Hoops camp.
Smith’s dedication to helping those students hasn’t changed since he has taken on the task of leading the men’s basketball program at Ocean County College in New Jersey. In fact, he’s taken it to a new level by bringing a Hawai’i athlete on board at his East Coast school, a first of what he hopes to be many opportunities to enhance a local pipeline between OCC and Hawai’i.
A former basketball player at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo, Smith announced earlier this week that Kealakehe High School graduate Deion Utrera has committed to play for OCC beginning in the upcoming 2015-2016 season.
“Deion was the MVP of my college prep camp a few years ago,” Smith said. “Deion’s been coming [to the camp] since the eighth grade. I know what kind of kid he is. I know the talent that he is, and quite frankly, it’s perfect timing for me because I need a point guard.”
Utrera, a 2013 Kealakehe graduate, is getting a second chance at playing basketball at the collegiate level. He signed out of high school with Concordia University and saw about 10-12 minutes per game with the junior varsity squad in his freshman year. He did not return for his sophomore season, citing a family emergency.
“My mother passed away this past year,” Utrera explained. “She actually had cancer. She had carcinoma in her mouth.”
It started as a cold sore that developed in the summer after Utrera’s high school graduation. It never went away, even after Utrera left for college. Just a few months later, Evangeline Utrera underwent chemotherapy and was still battling into Utrera’s second semester at the school. He notified his coach that he was leaving after basketball season to return home.
Deion returned home in April of 2014 to be with his mom. She died on July 22 that same year.
It was a love for his mom and his family that brought him home for the past year, but a little nudge from other relatives helped get him back into school and basketball.
“It was my grandpa and my aunty,” he said. “I was thinking about it, but they were the ones that finally told me ‘I want you to finish school.’ At the same time, I had the idea that I wanted to play again and I was thinking about it, and finally when I made the decision, I feel like I’m capable of anything.”
The maturity that Utrera showed dealing with tough situations has been with him, molded by the sport that he loved. When he first applied for Smith’s camp in eighth grade, Smith and the other coaches were concerned about an eighth grader mixing it up with the older campers.
“We were a little concerned about having an eighth grader compete at our college prep camp, but the one thing everyone kept saying was that Deion, even though he was in eighth grade, he had the respect of his peers. He’s a distributor. He is a natural born leader.”
Deion only has one year of eligibility at Ocean County, a two-year school. He hopes that through the help of Smith, he can continue to play basketball for two more years at a four-year institution.