Continuing family tradition

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Family and sports seem to go hand-in-hand, and that is no different for Griffon basketball players and Fiji natives, Mili and Mataika Koyamainavure.

At a young age, the siblings were surrounded by basketball through their family’s neighborhood team, the Davui Magics, or even watching their aunt coach the Fiji National under-20 team.

These experiences created lasting memories, explained Mataika.

“Me and my sister would follow them [my family] around wherever they went and played when we were little kids,” Mataika said. “While they were playing, I was like four and my sister would have been five, we would be on the side of the court just bouncing and playing. We would run onto the court and they would have to stop the game and chase us off. I can still remember that.”

The memories led to a love of basketball that the whole family shares according to Mili.

“My brother and I both made our debut in 2010 for our National Under-20 team and that was pretty special,” Mili said. “Not only do I respect and love the game, but my brother and I are continuing our family tradition in the sport.”

The siblings’ passion for the sport turned into collegiate talent when they both began their college careers at junior colleges in Iowa. Mili and Mataika had plans to play for the same school in Iowa, but when that fell through, Mili attended Iowa Central Community College and Mataika went to Southwestern Community College.

“At that time, the rule was only to allow a certain amount of international players and there had been three of us at Iowa Central,” Mili said. “So, the coach contacted the head coach at Southwestern so my brother could still play here in the U.S.”

Even though Mili and Mataika had to go their separate ways, they both found success at their schools. Mili is now ranked No. 12 in points in Iowa Central history with 892, as well as ranked No. 9 all-time for points in a season with 545. At Southwestern, Mataika was named 2nd Team All-Region in his sophomore season, scoring 426 points and averaging 12.9 points per game.

Although their original plan to play at the same school did not work out the first time, they would have another chance at Western.

Mili transferred to Western following her last year at Iowa Central. The transfer seemed to be the perfect fit to what she was looking for.

“I knew whatever school I was going to end up in, I had to work hard for my spot on the team,” Mili said. “On my official visit to Missouri Western, it felt like the right place for me. I loved the girls that were on the team that took me on my visit and the school has a good business program, which is what I’m going into.”

After Mili finished her first season as a Griffon, and Mataika finished his last season at Southwestern, head coach Brett Weiberg recruited Mataika.

“I had known about him because one of his teammates actually sent us film,” Weiberg said. “I put two and two together with coach [Rob] Edmisson and when he said Mili’s brother is at Southwest Iowa, I went back and looked at the film and thought hey, this young man is not bad. I thought he had great hands, he was not afraid of his physicality, he’s a good passer and he has a good touch from 15 feet and in.”

After a visit, Mataika chose to come to Western because of the team and the opportunity to learn from assistant coach Aaron Coombs.

“Our assistant coach, coach Coombs, is one of the reasons why I chose to come here because he played my position, played DI and played professional so I really want to follow in those footsteps,” Mataika said. “My dream is to play another five years after Western professionally and I know he’ll prepare me for professional if I want to play.”

Knowing that he would be able to represent the school alongside Mili also played a major factor in Mataika’s decision.

“It was one of the big reasons why I chose to come here, because my sister is here,” Mataika said. “It’s exciting, I can’t wait. When people start realizing that there is a brother and sister playing for our school, it’s exciting.”

Once Mili knew her brother’s decision, she was happy to finally get the chance to play the game that they love at the same school.

“I have a really tight bond with my siblings and it has been a hard four years. Not being able to share any of my collegiate career with my family, especially with my parents has been the hardest,” Mili said. “When he [Mataika] decided to come here, I was so excited considering he had other schools recruiting him. I love the fact that I am able to share this experience with him and we can’t be thankful enough to Missouri Western and the coaches for the opportunity.”

Weiberg also understands the importance of reuniting Mataika and Mili.

“I think it’s very nice for him to have, if nothing else, off the floor. On the floor, nothing changes. We coach him the same, but it’s just a blessing for him off the floor to have family,” Weiberg said. “He’s halfway around the world almost, but yet he has his sister right here and that they can see each other every day, I think it just helps at the end.”

Now that the siblings have been brought back together, they have their mindset on preparing for the upcoming season.

Mili is working towards having a successful senior season and is confident that she can end her career at Western on a high note.

“We have a very good team this year. We have all our returners back and we have some very talented new players,” Mili said. “The difference between this season and last is that, this year, the expectations are higher and we have another shot at achieving our goal. Then again, I feel that now that we [returners] have been through the program once and experienced how tough our conference is, there shouldn’t be any excuses  but, we will take one game as it comes.”

Mataika has been getting to know his new team while gearing up for his first game at the Division-II level.

“For the first week, we [the team] got to know each other and the second week it was like we knew each other forever, we’re brothers,” Mataika said. “It’s intense, in practice we get after it and I’ve gotten some minor injuries because of the contact but it’s worth it. I think I’ll be nervous and excited for the first game, because it’ll be the first at another level. I’m just going to compete, help the team be successful and have fun at the same time.”

Mili will begin her senior year as the Griffon women open up their season against the Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs in the SMSU classic on Friday, Nov. 13. Mataika will make his Western debut as the Griffon men open their season at home against the Wayne State Wildcats in the Hillyard Tip-Off Classic on Friday, Nov. 13.