While recruiting Leta Otuafi as a prep player, Nevada basketball coach Amanda Levens liked a lot of things about the Churchill County High star.
But with the Wolf Pack already deep on undersized post players, the Wolf Pack didn't quite pull the trigger on offering a scholarship to the 5-foot-11 local product.
“I really, really liked her in high school," Levens said during a Zoom press conference last week. "We didn’t offer her because we had Imani (Lacy) and Emma (Torbert), who would be in the class right above here. To me, they both were undersized, and Leta is a little undersized, and I didn’t want to bring in another 6-footish post player. We needed to get bigger or different, so that’s the reason we didn’t offer her."
But after Torbert transferred before the start of last season and Lacy followed suit after the end of the year, the Wolf Pack turned to Otuafi, who spent her freshman year of college at Utah State Eastern, a junior college in Price, Utah.
"When our roster changed, we were extremely interested," Levens said. "She's a really good player, and I think she’ll do really, really good things for us here.”
Otuafi is one of two local players who will join Nevada's roster next season. She'll be joined by Bishop Manogue guard Kenna Holt. Those two are the first scholarship locals in Levens' tenure. Levens, who is entering her fourth season at Nevada, said keeping top local talent in Northern Nevada is important.
That's something the Wolf Pack has largely been unable to do in recent seasons with Reno High's Shalen Shaw (Boise State), Gigi Hascheff (Sac State/Long Beach State) and Mallory (Oregon/Boise State) and Morgan McGwire (Santa Clara); Reed's Gabby Williams (UConn); Manogue's Kelly Lujan (Air Force) and Breezi and Malia Holt (Cal Poly); Churchill County's Leilani Otuafi (BYU); and Pershing County's Sarita Jo Condie (Navy) spreading out across the country.
Most of those players predate Levens' hiring at Nevada, and she said she wants to keep any players good enough to help the Wolf Pack win in Reno.
"For local players, I think we’re in such a special community that rallies around the university, local sport teams, high school and the Wolf Pack," Levens said. "Any chance we can keep these players home so the community can continue to see them grow and develop and graduate and go on and do amazing things is a really cool thing. Not everybody has an opportunity to have a college near where they’re from that has such a great athletics program competing it the Mountain West, so we have a really unique opportunity for these girls who grow up in our community.”
Otuafi brings size to a Wolf Pack roster light in that department. The only player on the roster who is taller than 6 foot and eligible to play next season is Eliska Stebetakova, a 6-2 junior-college transfer originally from the Czech Republic.
Otuafi won three state championships in high school before averaging 13.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game last season. She made 48.9 percent of her shots, including 29.4 percent from three, and sank 75 percent of her free throws Utah State Eastern went 24-6 and Otuafi was a junior-college All-American honorable mention.
“I think Leta is going to come in and make an immediate impact," Levens said. "She’s extremely skilled. She’s really versatile. Obviously, you’ve seen in our system we love players who can come in and play multiple positions and do a variety of things. She’s somebody that can get a defensive rebound and start the break and make decisions in transition. She can shoot the three, and she’s actually a really good post-up player and a good rebounder. She fills a lot of voids that we were in need of.
"She had a great first season at Utah State Eastern. She was an All-American in one season. Having her come back, the last time she played at Lawlor, she won the state championship. We are excited about that. She has great memories in Lawlor and will come back and make some more memories and help us get better as a local player, which is really exciting. Her family can see her play every home game."
Holt, meanwhile, led Bishop Manogue to the Northern 4A Regional title game and a state playoff berth last season. The 5-foot-8 guard was a two-time Sierra League Player of the Year and earned second-team all-state honors twice. As a senior, Holt averaged 16 points, 9.2 rebounds, 6.6 steals and 5.1 assists per game. She made 37 percent of her shots from the field, including 28 percent from three, while hitting 58 percent of her free throws.
Levens said Holt's effort stands out.
“She’s so competitive," Levens said. "She will just get up in your face and fight. If you knock her down, she’s going to get right back up and fight. I love her relentlessness. I know she’ll come here and continue to improve her skill set, but that’s not something we can instill in players. We can’t make them relentless. We can’t make them driven in a competitive way the way that she is. In this (recruiting) class, we have a couple of players who were extremely competitive, and that’s something we wanted to recruit.
"You can’t make players competitive and you can’t make them relentless. We can make them better basketball players, but at the end of the day, if there’s a 50-50 rebound, loose ball, getting to help side to take a charge, if they don’t have that, they’re not doing any of those things to help your team win.”
Holt will be a true freshman next season but is expected to fit into the Wolf Pack's rotation immediately. Nevada only has 10 eligible scholarship players next season as three players redshirt.
“We’re planning on her coming in and helping us right away," Levens said of Holt. "How competitive she is, she’ll find opportunities to help our team because of how hard she plays. You guys have seen her. There’s no 80 percent or 90 percent in that child. She is 100 percent all the time in everything she does. There’s always a place for players who play like that.”
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.