The Wesley Way: A Family’s Basketball Journey
Mekeli Wesley and Nathan Cooper from BYU celebrate their victory over USU. In the left background is BYU’s Silester Rivers. (Ravell Call, Desert News)
SALT LAKE CITY – In 1995 a family moved from Guam to Utah and settled in their new home east of I-15 in Orem. This property was called Wesley Way, which is where generations of Wesleys call home. Before Wesley Way became its headquarters, the family moved around the world and lived in Fiji, Utah and Guam.
In Fiji, Hiagi and Susan Wesley welcomed three boys: Mekeli, Russell and Tagaroa or “TG”. Another boy, Tika, was born six weeks before he was born when his mother and father were visiting American Samoa. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Utah, where two more boys, Tai and Keli’i, were born. In 1990 the family moved to Guam. Soon after moving, Susan gave birth to a girl named Tialei.
As a young boy in Guam, Tika competed on the basketball court with his brothers. “We lived in a condo and were out in the basketball hoop almost every night. We usually played against each other until Dad got home. We’d let him play out there so we could test ourselves. We could beat papa then we knew we’d get promoted. “
After a few years in Guam, 14-year-old Mekeli stood at 6 foot 6 and began to attract attention on the basketball court – and everywhere he went. The youngster struggled to adjust, which resulted in his parents making arrangements for him to return to Utah, where he joined the Provo High basketball team.
“That was a really good move for me,” said Mekeli. “I was totally focused on basketball. I started my sophomore year on the college team and we won the state championship. The only unfortunate thing was that my parents were still in Guam with the family so they missed it all.” the.”
However, his family didn’t want to miss the rest of his high school career and moved to Orem. The family bought a house on land that would become their generation home. When friends from the neighborhood stopped by, a portable basketball hoop was put in place. Continue to play.
“I always knew where to go to play basketball,” said longtime friend Dan Ybarra. “We played in the Wesley’s backyard and church all the time. The games were fiercely competitive but brought us closer together as close-knit boys from 3rd Ward.”
After winning a second state championship in his senior year, Mekeli had several offers to play college basketball. He chose BYU and handed the Bulldog basketball coat to Russell. Another Wesley and another Provo state basketball championship, which Russell and the Bulldogs repeated as 4A state champions in 1998. That season, Provo defeated Miami Senior High, a school run by future NBA players Udonis Haslem and Steve Blake.
While Russell was busy beating future NBA talent, Mekeli excelled at BYU. In his junior year, he helped the Cougars upset victories over New Mexico and Utah in the Mountain West Conference Tournament before falling in the final against UNLV.
Less than a week earlier, two other Wesley brothers had fallen in a tournament final. Tika, a 6-foot-5 freshman dunker, joined TG on the college Bulldog basketball team. Provo returned to the state championship game again, falling back against rival Timpview.
Earlier this year, TG ripped his MCL while playing soccer, which kept him off the basketball court for almost two months. TG felt that he and his brothers could have outperformed on the soccer field.
“We kind of missed our calling,” he said. “I think we should have played football because we are all built for football.”
Mekeli, Tai and Russell after winning gold (Photo: Wesley Family)
By the time TG was through his senior year of high school, Mekeli was a star in the field as a college graduate. The oldest Wesley had a career year, shot over 43% from the 3-point line and averaged 17.2 points per game. He added to his impressive season by winning Mountain West Conference Player of the Year and leading BYU to a conference tournament championship.
The tall man with reach, however, remained undrafted. He started a successful career in Europe where he played for teams in France, Poland, Spain, Belgium and Portugal. While in Belgium he led the league in terms of scoring.
As Mekeli’s professional career began, Russell was returning home from a mission in the Philippines. A few days after Russell returned, Mekeli took his brother to see Dick Hunsaker, the new head coach at Utah Valley State College. Russell hoped he could keep running for the basketball team.
When Mekeli and Russell entered the school gym, they found Hunsaker and his players in an open gym format. The former Utah assistant looked at the two Wesleys and said, “Mekeli, you can play.” Pointing to Russell, “You, you can’t play.”
Mekeli refused to play without his brother and went to another hoop to shoot with Russell. An assistant coach approached and said, “You two are next.”
The two oldest Wesley boys formed a team and won eight games in a row. Before the day ended, Russell had an invitation to walk-in tryouts that eventually formed the team and received a scholarship after his first season.
When Russell started his freshman year, Tika and Tai took care of things at Provo, with Tika entering senior year and Tai just one class behind. The season would start with 18 straight wins. But for the third time in a row, the Bulldogs’ final defeat would come in the first round of the playoffs.
After a disappointing senior season, Tika decided to stay near her home and accept an offer to play for Salt Lake Community College. In the Bruins, he averaged 10 points and 5 rebounds.
Russell, Hiagi, Tai, Susan and Mekeli after the Guam national team finished with gold (Photo: Wesley Family)
Back in Utah County, Tai helped the Bulldogs correct their surprise exit from the state tournament the previous season in the first round. He won the Utah Mr. Basketball Award and led his team to the state title.
Provo’s very first Mr. Basketball had schools in line for his services. After missing Mekeli, Utah state head coach Stew Morrill attempted another attempt to court a Wesley, this time successful where BYU failed.
Meanwhile, in the Utah Valley, Coach Hunsaker threatened to withdraw Russell’s hard-earned scholarship in the middle of the game. Russell failed on an extra pass, which resulted in Hunsaker ripping him. He pulled Wesley out and yelled, “You know the scholarship I gave you? After his reintegration, Russell helped make a comeback. He pocketed two free throws to win the game and his coach said, “Russ, you know the scholarship I told you about? You just earned it back.”
Russell and his scholarship have been well used. “My job was to get Ryan Toolson and Ronnie Price every day basketball and D-up Ronnie in practice. I always had to watch Ronnie Price,” said Russell. “I told Ronnie the reason he had to go to the NBA is because I played such a good defense against him and made him a good offensive player.”
Russell’s senior year Tika moved to Utah Valley and teamed up with his older brother. TG saw a unique opportunity to play D1 basketball with his brothers. He joined the team but faced credit complications that prevented the Wesley Wolverine duo from becoming a trio.
After Tika and Russell’s only year together, no college in the state had a Wesley on its roster for the second time since 1997. That soon changed when Tai returned home from a mission and resumed his career in the state of Utah for the 2007-08 season.
The last Wesley in college basketball, he made a name for himself helping the Aggies win a seat to the NCAA tournament in his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons. Do not miss a start during this period. In the four years following the mission, Tai and the Aggies won four regular season WAC championships and two conference tournament titles.
At the beginning of its senior year, the Aggie Ironman had certain expectations of itself. Following in the footsteps of former teammates Jaycee Carroll and Gary Wilkinson, Tai was named WAC Player of the Year. “I was close to Jaycee and I was close to Gary,” said Tai. “I wanted to be the next Aggie Great to be named WAC Player of the Year. So that was my goal.”
After Tai’s senior year, the NBA and its players struggled through an extended offseason that gave players like Tai limited opportunities to showcase their skills. He hired an agent and quickly took the opportunity to play in Holland, winning a Dutch basketball league championship in his first season.
After three years in Europe, Tai went to New Zealand and finally Australia. Success would continue to follow the savvy hoopster as he won three more championships in New Zealand and two in Australia before opting for retirement.
In the prime of his basketball career, Tai was recruited for the Guam national team. In 2013, Mekeli had received a message from an old classmate in Guam, EJ Calvo: the basketball head coach of the Guam national team. Calvo wanted Mekeli.
Getting a Wesley meant that more Wesleys found their way into the team. Mekeli spoke to his classmate who became a coach, which led to Tai in 2015 and gold at the South Pacific Games. Calvo has also added Russell to the team. The trio of Wesleys helped Guam earn another gold at the 2019 Games.
Before the Wesleys demolished the international hardwood, Mekeli and TG had begun demolishing the family’s land in Orem by building a new road and own houses near their parents’ home. Susan went into town and asked if the family’s new private walkway could be added to the street post. The city signed up, and Wesley Way was born.
Last December, Hiagi and Susan officially retired and moved back to Orem, where a newly built house on land full of memories haunted them after Wesley Way. Every week Wesleys can be found on their street doing two of the things they do best: strengthen family bonds and compete.
The love of competition was passed on to the next generation, who excelled in several sports and carried on the sporting traditions of their fathers.
Athletic excellence, especially on the basketball court, was Wesley’s way; a family tradition that has its roots in a special time and place. A place where competition and family ties continued to grow: on Wesley Way.