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Gene's Blog: Pride of Tonga hoops savors Tommie roots

Mark Brown photo
Mark Brown photo

Born in Canada. Raised in the Twin Cities. Educated at the University of St. Thomas. Employed as a pro basketball player in New Zealand and now Australia. Forever connected to Tonga.

Welcome to Marcus Alipate's fun and fast-paced world.

A men's basketball standout at St. Thomas from 2011-2015, Alipate is working hard to continue his overseas professional hoops career, including the last four seasons competing in New Zealand and Australia. The 6-0 guard celebrates his 27th birthday this week as he prepares for a July tournament that holds a deep personal meaning.

Alipate is looking to elevate the South Pacific nation of Tonga -- where he is a naturalized citizen -- to even greater heights in basketball. After an 18-year absence from fielding a men's hoops team for international play, Tonga sent a squad into last November's Polynesian Cup. With only six players in uniform, Tonga survived some early defeats and rallied to claim a bronze medal.

Alipate was team captain and made the all-tournament team for the pre-Olympic Games qualifier. He averaged a tournament-best 39.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game -- including making 14 treys in a record-setting 55-point outing. He helped the Tongan National Team to a bronze-medal win over American Samoa, 79-77, a win that avenged a one-point loss to American Samoa earlier in the tournament.

More importantly, Tonga qualified for this year's July 8-17 Pacific Cup tournament set for Apia, Samoa, where the top two teams will advance into the next round of the FIBA Asia Cup. The eight-team Pacific Cup field also includes defending champion Guam; Polynesian Cup gold and silver teams Tahiti and Samoa; Solomon Isands; Papua New Guinea; New Caledonia; and Fiji.

Alipate's family roots to Tonga run deep: His great uncle King Taufaahau Tupou IV reigned over the country until his death in 2006. Tonga's current king is Marcus' second cousin: 'Aho'eitu Unuaki'otonga Tuku'aho Tupou VI.

Marcus comes from a strong athletic family. His dad Tuineau was born in Tonga but moved to California at age eight. He is a former former Washington State, Canadian Football League, New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings player. Marcus' mother Lisa was a Division I gymnast and track and field athlete at Washington State. His cousin Rey Maualuga played linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals. Brothers Moses and Mikias played Division I football, and younger sister Mariah, now a St. Cloud State basketball player, helped Eastview win a state championship in 2018. 

 

 

Tommie Days

St. Thomas head coach John Tauer said he's not surprised that Alipate is still making big shots and is still looked to as a team leader.

"Marcus is one of the all-time great guards at St. Thomas," Tauer said. "As a two-sport star out of Bloomington Jefferson, Marcus made the transition to college basketball, improving year over year. He scored over 1,000 points for us, made an extraordinary 47 percent on three point shots, and was one of 20 Division III seniors selected to play in the Reese's All-American Game. He was a key player on our 2013 Final Four team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation. He was named All-MIAC, All-Region, and was captain of a team ranked as high as No. 3 in the nation in 2015

"Marcus' professional basketball career has taken him to New Zealand, Australia, and now to the position of captain of the Tongan National Team. We're incredibly proud of all of Marcus' accomplishments. It was an honor to coach Marcus, and it is a joy to follow his success as his journey takes him across the world."

"It's an honor to represent the country of Tonga," Alipate explained. "I thank my family, friends, and everyone along the path that helped me get to where I am at now. I take the lessons and skills from St. Thomas and apply them with our national team. As a captain of the Tommies and now with Tonga, I hope to represent my roots in the best way I can."

Alipate finished No. 2 on the career scoring list at Jefferson High behind future NBA standout Cole Aldrich and ahead of future Gophers and NBA player Kevin Lynch. His athleticism also came through for the Jaguars in football where he played wide receiver, defensive back, punted, kicked PATs and returned kicks.

Alipate went on to contribute all four seasons for St. Thomas basketball from 2011-15 and played in 116 games. He surpassed 1,000 career points during his final contest, a 71-70 NCAA playoff loss to Northwestern-St. Paul decided on a buzzer-beating 3-point basket by the Eagles. He made 76 3-point shots in his final season and converted at 46.3 percent. On his career he sank 197 treys at a 46-percent clip. He scored a career-best 30 points in a 2015 road win at Bethel. The Tommies won seven of eight MIAC regular-season and playoff titles in his era with an overall 98-19 record. 

"Playing at St. Thomas taught me a lot about life," Alipate said. "From the coaching staff down to the training staff, everyone is family. When I chose to come to St. Thomas, I didn't know what to expect. I was challenged both on and off the court in ways that shaped me into the person I am today. I developed a lot of great relationships with my teammates, classmates, faculty, and alumni that to this day I keep in contact with.

"I value the time I spent at St. Thomas, and if I had to go back in time I wouldn't change a thing about my journey. As a team we always talked about getting a little bit better each day. We were taught that focus should be put on daily habits because the results were just a testament to our habits. If we put the work in, we would have the results we wanted. I also take with me the lessons I learned about balance in life, and enjoying ups and downs. There are always lessons to be learned from everything, win or lose. Knowing how to have your balance in life, it really helps you get through life on a positive note."

 

 

 

 

Pro Opportunities

After a two-year run playing in New Zealand with the Canterbury Rams, Alipate moved on to Australia in 2017. He averaged 18.7 points, 8.0 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game in 2017-18 in his first season with the Geraldton Buccs.

This season, he's averaging 15.6 points, 4.6 assists and four boards and has helped second-place Geraldton to a 14-4 start. He recorded 21 points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals in 34 minutes in a recent game that extended the Buccs' win streak to six. 

Tauer said there's more to Alipate's potential beyond basketball.

"Beyond his accomplishments on the court, Marcus has an infectious personality that positively impacted everyone he came into contact with during his time on our campus," Tauer said. "Whether it was summer basketball campers, fans who loved his pregame back flip in the team huddle, teammates, coaches, or fellow students, Marcus' energy and enthusiasm are unique. He started a clothing company while he was on campus stemming from work in his Entrepreneurship major, highlighting the balance of excellence our players strive for academically, athletically, and in their career preparation."

Marcus started the True You clothing line, and hopes to return to that creative side when his basketball career ends. For now, he's enjoying the opportunities in this phase of his life.

"I've been fortunate enough to travel the world, and do something I love for a living," Alipate said. "I've been able to do some amazing things like skydive in New Zealand to walking The Great Wall in China. I've met some amazing people from Europe to Australia on this journey. There's something to be said about traveling the world but always keeping in mind where you come from. With my time at St. Thomas, I've learned many lessons and skills that I now take all around the world with me. Each country I play in or visit, best believe they will know about the Tommies when it's all said and done.

"I've had some amazing people come into my life. From my family who has always been there for me no matter, I appreciate them. Coach Tauer and the coaching staff has been like a father figures to me since I met them, and I wouldn't be where I am at without their help.

"I still think JT (Coach Tauer) should wear a bow tie more often,... but what do I know."

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Links

2019 Pacific Cup, Tonga team preview

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Gene's Blog is a sports column penned by UST sports information director Gene McGivern. Gene is working his 25th season at St. Thomas and 31st overall in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He blogs periodically on various topics regarding the Tommies, the MIAC and Division III sports.

If you have comments or questions, e-mail Gene at ejmcgivern@stthomas.edu