Watchers of the A10 are well familiar with Kendell Heremaia. A multiple-time all-conference selection, Heremaia has formed part of the core of Stephanie Gaitley’s Fordham side for the last five years. We caught up with the New Zealand native over Zoom. (Note: the conversation has been edited for concision and flow. Many thanks to Fordham’s Ryan Uhlich for setting up this conversation.)
First and foremost, congratulations on reaching 1,000 career points! What was that moment like for you?
Back home, we don’t really celebrate these types of things. Getting a thousand points isn’t a big deal. Over here, it’s something that was memorable for everyone, and I felt really happy about it. Just to be recognized and to have something like that was really nice.
You will end up having played almost 150 games for Fordham, and you’re all over the record book. What does it mean to you to have put up those types of numbers?
The other day, I saw this sheet that Ryan [Fordham’s SID] had printed out [with some of our records]. I was so surprised, I was like “Oh wow…I’m there? I’m there too? How?!” I was so surprised that I was there over those five years, but it’s really cool to see.
You mention back home. How did you go from Whangarei, New Zealand to Fordham?
Honestly, if it wasn’t for my mom, I wouldn’t even be here. She did all the paperwork, set up the interview, and helped me stay in contact with the coaching staff. The transition was a little difficult, because culturally there is a big gap. It’s so straightforward over here. When it comes to basketball, the intensity of playing is much, much higher here. During the first practice, I had a real hard time…(laughs). That’s all I can say about that.
You’ve had a lot of teammates at Fordham from Oceania. Has it helped to have people from the same general area?
Yeah, definitely. When Mary Goulding was here, I was close to her, even though I didn’t know her back home in New Zealand. It was pretty much an easy connection. She knew how I was, she knew the words I used…if it wasn’t for her being here, I wouldn’t have been able to settle in so quickly. There was Zara [Jillings] as well. My closest one is probably Vilisi Tavui. She knows me so well, and I know her so well. We have an amazing connection. When COVID first hit, we were able to go home for five months, but since then we’ve been here, which has been a little hard.
I saw the video of [graduate walk-on] Edona Thaqi getting the scholarship at practice last week. What was that like to be a part of?
(Laughs). Our coach, she completely tricked us all. Some people knew about it, but some people were totally in the dark…and I was one of those people. When it came to the circle we usually come in, she usually asks someone the main thing we’re focusing on that day. She deliberately asked Edona, and when she answered Coach immediately said “no, that’s wrong.” She told us to get on the line, and that we were going to run…she’s such a good actor! She even fooled the people who knew about the scholarship. Everybody’s heart dropped…even my heart dropped. Then she brings out the paper with an “s” for scholarship and we were so stoked for Edona. She’s such a hard worker, she’s a good person and player and leader as well. I feel like she’s one of the people who really keeps us together as a group.
Let’s talk Coach Gaitley. What would you say her biggest strengths are as a coach?
I think her biggest strength is that she’s really honest with us. It’s her first value that she looks to all the time. When she sees we’re not doing something right, she’s not afraid to tell us that she needs something different. She sees the potential in all of us and where we can be, and with her being honest with us we know what we have to do and I think that’s the best thing you can do as a coach.
You’re a Film & Television and Visual Arts double major. How did that come to be?
My biggest passion outside of basketball is art. It’s something I started doing because my parents did it, and my brothers and sister did it too, so I decided to give it a try. It was just an elective at first, just to do it because, you know, might as well. Film and Television was kind of random. I changed my major, like, three times, and I had just read the description of the class and it seemed cool, so I decided to take it on. Now Film is something I’m seriously considering for the future.
Fordham played one of the toughest non-conference schedules out there. How did you approach games against some of the biggest programs in the country?
Our mindset going into it was “We can do this. This is our game.” We weren’t thinking about Notre Dame or Baylor. We were just thinking that this is a challenge, but we can beat them. That it was a challenge, but that it was up to us to answer that challenge. With the Notre Dame game, our beginning was not so great but our ending was ok. In the Baylor game, our first half was amazing but our ending was not good. It’s a challenge, but we have to put a full good game together, not just one half or the other.
Lastly, you’ve played on five different Fordham teams. Where do you think the ceiling is for this year’s group?
This team feels like it felt the year we won. We know each other’s game so well, our chemistry is super good. I’m just so happy I get to spend my last year with this team especially. I’ll just leave it there, or else I could talk about them for a while.