Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Provo High School's Tai Wesley drives to the basket in a recent game.

PROVO — As a 6-foot-5 eighth-grader he wasn't a good fit in the schools of Guam.

So his parents, for athletic and academic reasons, sent him to Utah to live with a close family friend — Provo High assistant basketball coach Keli Lobendahn.

"That's how it all started," Lobendahn said.

The "it" that Lobendahn was referring to is the 11-year stretch where at least one member of the Hiagi and Susan Wesley family has suited up in a Provo High basketball uniform. The big, tall freshman-to-be was Mekeli Wesley.

"If Mekeli had stayed in Guam he would have ended up playing volleyball, not basketball," Susan Wesley said.

Mekeli was the first of five Wesley boys to star for the Bulldogs. That decade-plus era, however, is about to come to an end.

When Tai Wesley, the youngest of the five, laces up his gymmers Tuesday night and takes the court in Provo's Region 6 finale, it will be the last time that a Wesley boy plays on the Provo High hardwood. There are no more basketball-playing Wesleys left in the pipeline — only a seventh-grade sister and a brother who doesn't play hoops.

"It's going to be sad," Susan Wesley said, wiping away a tear when asked how she'll feel watching a son introduced to the Provo High crowd for the final time.

When Mekeli arrived at Provo High in 1993 he was raw in basketball skills and the Provo coaches didn't really know if he'd ever play for them.

"Do you know how many times I've had someone tell me that we've got a 6-foot-6 freshman coming in?" head coach Craig Drury said. "That didn't mean anything to me."

But Mekeli blossomed quickly and contributed heavily to the Bulldogs' two state championships in 1994-95 and 1996-97. He was an all-state player and probably Utah's best prep player his senior season. He went on to star at Brigham Young University and now plays professional ball in Belgium.

When Hiagi and Susan, who met at BYU, saw the benefits of having their oldest son attend school in Provo, they decided the rest of the family needed to get over here. They were finally able to make the move in 1996, right before Mekeli's senior season, when Hiagi landed an administrative job with the Granite School District.

"We were missing out on all the things he was accomplishing and it was hard being over there and not being part of it," Susan said.

Hiagi and Susan haven't missed any games since. Russell Wesley was next in line and played for the Bulldogs for two seasons, winning a state crown in 1998 and graduating in 1999. He's now one of the first reserves off the bench for Utah Valley State College.

T.G. was the third Wesley to play for Drury, finishing up his career in 2001. He's now serving an LDS Church mission. During T.G.'s senior season his brothers, sophomore Tika and freshman Tai, joined him on the Provo varsity team. Tika graduated last year and also garnered all-state honors his senior year. He's currently a college freshman playing for Salt Lake Community College.

Tai Wesley, the final link, is also sure to be an all-state player at season's end. He's averaging more than 16 points per game despite being double and triple-teamed every game. Drury feels Tai is the state's best player.

"Sometimes it just amazes me at what he does out there. They're throwing guys from the band and mascots out there to guard him," the Provo coach said.

In the 10 seasons prior to this one, with a Wesley on the team, Provo has won three state titles, played in one other final game and four other semifinal games. But Drury doesn't look back at what the Wesleys as a family have contributed to Provo basketball. He looks back at each Wesley individually.

"Each one has come in here and been asked to fill a different kind of role that we needed filled, and they've done that well," Drury said.

When players move on, so do coaches to a new team with new personalities. Drury said he won't necessarily miss having a Wesley on his team as much as he'll be happy for their personal progress. But he's not sure it will be that easy for Hiagi and Susan.

"I don't think they realize right now how much they will miss it," Drury said.

They might just have to wait another 15 years for the tradition to start up again. Mekeli does have a young son, and more grandsons are sure to follow.


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