More than a week after new Texas Longhorns head coach Chris Beard seemingly left open the possibility that senior forward Kamaka Hepa could return to the Forty Acres, Hepa announced his commitment to the Hawaii Rainbow Warrios on Sunday evening.
A native of Alaska, Hepa is part Hawaiian in addition to his Filippino and Inupiat heritage.
Following the first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Abilene Christian, the departure of Shaka Smart, and Beard’s hire, Hepa became the third Longhorns player to enter the portal in early April and the fourth to leave the program overall — sophomore forward Kai Jones declared for the 2021 NBA Draft, senior forward Royce Hamm Jr. transferred to UNLV, and sophomore guard Donovan Williams joined Hamm at UNLV.
All four of Smart’s 2021 signees requested releases from their National Letters of Intent.
A 6’9, 200-pounder from Alaska, Hepa was a top-60 prospect in the 2018 recruiting class when he chose Texas over Gonzaga. But despite earning Gatorade Player of the Year honors in Alaska and then Oregon after moving south to advance his basketball career, Hepa struggled to find minutes for the Longhorns.
As a freshman, Hepa played in 19 games, starting once and averaging 1.8 points and 1.5 rebounds in 9.9 minutes per game. In an overtime loss to Baylor, Hepa played 39 minutes and scored 11 points thanks while hitting all three three-point attempts. During the 2019-20 season, Hepa started 10 games, averaging 2.9 points and 1.8 rebounds in 12.9 minutes per contest, including 15 points in 31 minutes against Oklahoma State.
With the addition of highly-touted freshman forward Greg Brown III and the improvement from Jones, Hepa planned on redshirting during the 2020-21 season, largely serving as a hype man and de facto assistant coach. When Texas experienced COVID-19 issues in January, though, Hepa stepped up, playing 12 minutes against Oklahoma and then 26 minutes against Kansas State, when he scored 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including five made threes, an assist, a block, and a steal.
Texas currently has seven players confirmed for the 2021-22 roster, including three transfers, three returning players, and former Texas Tech signee Jaylon Tyson.