Jai Ituka is one of the most talented high school basketball players in the state of Maryland.
Coming off a freshmen year where Ituka helped carry his varsity Gaithersburg Trojans team to a Regional Championship and an apparance in the State semifinals at Xfinity Center of University of Maryland, Ituka knows going into his sophomore year, he needs to be even better.
Much of Ituka’s focus has been on growing as a leader. Ituka has participated in Lead ‘Em Up the last two years (with his 8th grade team, last year as a freshman at Gaithersburg and in a special 4-week Lead ‘Em Up Training Camp hosted last May at Gaithersburg for 20 select athletes from around the county).
How has becoming a leader helped you as a player and has helped your team?
“Becoming a better leader has helped me a lot because I’ve become a better teammate and I’ve become more helpful and encouraging for the other guys. I’m able to help lift them up on the court and I’m able to help guide them, making sure everyone is improving and getting better. Most important is that we’re all moving towards winning.
What is something you do now that you didn’t much of 1-2 years ago as a leader?
“I call and text my teammates all the time. I try to get them to meet up at the gym and ball. I encourage them to work and get better. I’m always telling them to continue playing hard to help the team and be the best they can be. I was a lot more focused on just me in the past, not anymore.”
Was there an exact moment you remember where your mind shifted? When you said, it’s time for me to step up as a leader?
“Yes, it was during my freshmen year of high school basketball. All the time in our Lead ‘Em Up sessions, along with my coach (Coach Holda) pushing me, I realized this year I play a very big role as a leader and captain. I realized now was the time to take that step.”
What drives you to be a better leader?
My desire to become the best player I can be. I want to make it to the NBA because that’s my goal and dream ever since I started playing ball and that itself pushes me and fires me up to work hard every day and become the best player in Maryland and in the country. Being a leader will help me reach all those goals.
From Coach Holda: “What has been the biggest transformation you’ve seen in Jao?”
“His ability to persuade his teammates to join him in workouts, in the gym and carrying themselves with class in school. He gets on his teammates now and will push them and drive them.”
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Be on the lookout as Lead ‘Em Up will begin sharing a monthly player and program spotlights. Growth like Jao Ituka’s deserve to be spotlighted.
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