Salt Lake Community College prides itself on many shining achievements, including its effort in diversity and championship-level athletics.
This season, the Bruin basketball teams are loaded with talent and feature a few key sophomores who were born overseas. Their love for the game and desire for education has brought them to SLCC, where they are currently leading their respective teams to success within the Scenic West Athletic Conference, garnering national attention for both themselves and the program. Both programs are ranked in the top 10 in the NJCAA polls.
Tia Hay: From the beaches to the hardwood
Tia Hay has been one of the best players on Coach Betsy Specketer’s teams in recent memory. Hay’s list of accomplishments include a First-Team All-American recognition, SWAC Co-player of the Year, and All-Tournament teams in both the SWAC tournament and the national tournament, all in her freshman year.
This season is no different for Hay, who looks poised to earn more accolades by the end of her SLCC career. She is a dependable scorer who leads the team in that category (18.4) and has started every game this season. Hay wants to see this team repeat their success from last season where they were Region 18 champions and made the school’s first appearance in the Final 4 at the national tournament.
Hay was born in Melbourne, Australia. Her mother, Kathryn, played basketball in a high women’s league in Australia and was coaching when Tia was born.
“I literally tagged along everywhere she went because she was a single mom, everywhere she went with basketball I was there,” Hay says. “I kinda just grew up watching it and she taught me at a young age … she would coach like six or seven games pretty much every week and I was always there and that’s kinda how I learned what the sport was.”
Hay said she started playing basketball for fun when she was about 11. She began to really take it seriously at age 14, when she played for a traveling team in a very competitive league.
In Australia, the population of kangaroos exceeds the population of humans; Hay has a kangaroo as a pet back home. She still stays in touch with family in Australia, but she misses the face-to-face connections.
Growing up with the beach as her backyard and access some of the freshest fish and food in the world are two things that she has had to deal with losing after moving to the Rocky Mountains, but she was especially surprised with one thing in particular: Sundays in Utah.
“A lot of things are closed on a Sunday, so that was kind of weird too,” Hay says. “If I wanted to go somewhere it was closed, so that was another adjustment.”
Hay is thankful for her time playing under Coach Specketer, who she called one of the best coaches she’s ever had. The opportunity to play for SLCC and earn a college degree has helped Hay prepare for her future.
“I’ve been able to travel different places, see things and learn things, met new people, met new coaches and all that. I’ve definitely grown as a person socially … basketball has given back to me a lot school wise and as a person too,” Hay says.
Upon completing her generals, Hay plans to transfer to a four-year institution, and potentially play professionally after that. She would like to work with kids in the future as part of her career.
With high praise for her team, Hay has high expectations for them going forward. She noted the chemistry this year is what separates this team from the rest of the pack.
“I love this team,” Hay says. “I loved last year, but this team is really cool. I get along with everyone. We’re a family.”
Kur Kuath: Escaping a Civil War
The Sudanese Civil War is often considered a 50-year war, with an 11-year ceasefire that occurred between 1972 through 1983. One of the bloodiest civil wars in modern-day human history, the death toll reached 1.5 to 2 million people before the conflict ended in 2005.
Many refugees fled the country to escape the battles in the streets; among them was Kur Kuath’s family.
Kuath was born in Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan. His family later settled in Egypt for a little while, trying to make a living and trying to get to America. After they filed their immigration papers to come to America, they were luckily accepted into the country and Kuath believed it to be both good luck and divine intervention.
“My family got here on pure luck, I feel. I feel like God brought me here,” Kuath says. “Coming to America has opened up a lot of opportunities in education and school. It’s been great, I’m grateful for what I have coming to America.”
Kuath had to learn a new language after coming here and his family also struggled initially after coming to Utah, especially with the temperature change coming from a warm African climate.
On the court this year, Kuath has been a defensive nightmare for opposing teams. The 6-foot-9 Kuath has a 7-foot-5 inch wingspan and is currently ranked fifth nationally in blocked shots per game (3.9). Kuath’s presence alone deters teams from trying to attack the paint for an easy layup. The Bruins have a strong and intimidating defense that surrenders less than 70 points a game.
Kuath’s love for the game goes beyond just playing. He’s thankful for the game that has given him a scholarship and helping him succeed off the court.
“Basketball has done so much for me. It’s gotten me a full scholarship to play basketball and get a free education,” Kuath says. “If I wasn’t playing basketball, I wouldn’t be in college right now … I’d have to work and help support the family. But this gives me an opportunity to open up more opportunities for me and my family … I just have love for the game, it’s a beautiful game.”
Kuath wants to use his college education to find a way to help his family still living in Sudan. He’s hoping to find some time to go back and visit.
As for the rest of the season, Kuath wants to see his team dominate their region and get to the national championship to bring the trophy back to SLCC.
“Definitely win the national championship, that’s my biggest goal right now … CSI is a great team; [USU-Eastern] has won one, we’re 1-1 [against] USU-E; Snow and CNCC are gonna come pretty hard because we beat them … It’s gonna be good,” Kuath says.
Kuath has also verbally committed to the University of Oklahoma to continue playing basketball for legendary college coach Lon Kruger.
Bushmen Ebet: Multi-sport athlete with sky-high potential
Ebet’s history is a little hazy. Not because he can’t remember it, but because his father, Marin Buba, hasn’t told him the whole story yet.
Ebet knows he was born in Ethiopia, according to his father, and moved to the States when he was two and settled in Dallas, Texas. He stayed in Dallas with his father until he was in eighth grade then moved to Utah.
Ebet’s father was the man who got his son interested in basketball, but Ebet didn’t take it seriously until the move to Utah.
“I played football first in Texas and then when I came out here I played basketball,” Ebet says. “My dad, he would give me the basketball — he bought me a ball — he would give me the ball and tell me to play, like dribble and stuff. I knew how to dribble but I didn’t know how to shoot.”
Ebet’s father was a huge Los Angeles Lakers fan and was enamored with Kobe Bryant. So naturally, he wanted his son to play like his favorite player. Bryant is known for not seeing a shot he didn’t think he could make; it was that fearlessness that made him the assassin on the court that he was.
Ebet’s father had him play against his sister in a game of one-on-one, and Ebet executed a crossover move that had his dad surprised, but immediately optimistic about a future in hoops for his son.
“My dad is my role model,” Ebet says. “He’s basically my best friend. He helps me get through ups and downs, he guides me through things because he’s been through it. I basically want to receive everything he’s received, as in his degrees and everything.”
Ebet has become a talented scorer, leading SLCC in points per game (14.7). He exploded for a season-high 28 points against Western Nebraska Community College earlier this season.
Ebet was a part of the national title-winning Bruins team in 2016, but took a year off last season. What makes Ebet so difficult to guard is the amount of speed he has for his size and his ability to score in a variety of ways. He can shoot from deep or drive to the basket, making him unpredictable to guard.
Prior to joining SLCC, Ebet previously attended Kearns High School, where the Cougars were runners up in the state championship game in 2015. Ebet earned varsity letters in both basketball and track.
Ebet sees the game of basketball a little differently than just something to help him earn a college education, he sees it as an escape from what could have been bad life choices while he was younger.
“Basketball actually has done a lot for me. It took my mind off of basically just dropping out of school or not going to school, just things I got in trouble for back then. It just kept me focused and kept me in school by playing basketball,” Ebet says.
Ebet is an International Business major and wants to continue his education after he’s finished at SLCC. According to Deseret News writer Jody Genessy, Ebet has reportedly received some recruiting attention from major Division I schools such as USC.
The Region 18 tournaments for the men’s and women’s teams start in March at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah. If all goes well, the women will participate in NJCAA national tournament in Lubbock, Texas, and the men will go to nationals in Hutchinson, Kansas.
While both teams have their eyes set on winning their region, they can’t help but look up at the championship banners hanging from the rafters of the Lifetime Activities Center and wonder if they can add one of their own this season.