By Ray Hamill — Team Beasts is fast building a reputation both within and outside Humboldt County.
The AAU basketball club, in just its fourth year operating out of Eureka, now features 11 teams, from fifth grade to high school, up from the one team the club started with.
“It’s a higher level AAU,” club director Eddie Vainuku said.
Many of the players on the Fortuna High boys basketball team, which thrilled local fans with an historic season this past winter, came through the program over the past two years, and it’s something Vainuku feels helped prepare them for such a memorable campaign.
Now Vainuku and his team of top local coaches are working with the next generation of local stars, including the seventh grade girls team, which is four for four at tournaments this season, and 13-1 overall.
And that team is coached by Fortuna boys head coach Tony Miles, along with Anna Vainuku.
The girls were one of six Beasts teams to finish first or second at this past weekend’s Chico Spring Time Classic, and, according to the club director, are ranked No. 7 in NorCal out of 1,000 teams.
Also winning their bracket in Chico were the Beasts fifth and ninth grade boys, as well as their eighth grade girls.
The eighth grade boys and sixth grade girls each also placed second in their brackets.
The ninth grade boys are one team Vainuku is particularly excited to see playing.
“They have the best players from the freshmen class in Humboldt County,” he said. “They come from Arcata, Fortuna St. Bernard’s, McKinleyville, from pretty much every high school in the county, and they’re killing everybody.”
The eighth grade boys also had a big showing in their bracket, despite not winning the championship.
The Athlete Factory
The club is run in conjunction with Vainuku’s gym, The Athlete Factory in Eureka, where the teams train every week.
The Athlete Factory was founded to give young local athletes specialized sports training, as well as to prepare them for the culture of high level competition.
And Vainuku stresses that “culture, culture, culture.”
“The reason we started it was to create a Division-I or even pro level sports environment,” Vainuku said. “To set the standard.”
Part of that is ensuring the athletes maintain their grades in school, and anyone who wants to train there must maintain a GPA of at least 3.0.
It hasn’t frightened off many local athletes, with the gym membership growing from 12 kids four years ago to 460 this year.
“Some of my college kids still come back to train on spring break and in the summer,” the gym owner said.
Team Beasts, meanwhile, will continue to compete at top level AAU tournaments in the coming months, with planned trips to Las Vegas, Seattle and to the ESPN 100 in Portland, an invite only tournament.