Performance: Mancelona's Eileene Naniseni

January 22, 2017

Eileene Naniseni
Mancelona senior – Basketball

The 6-foot-3 center has had a monumental impact on the Ironmen girls basketball program over the last four seasons, and recently reached an individual milestone as part of that team-elevating effort. Naniseni scored her 1,000th point (and 32 in the game) during her team’s 54-40 win over Fife Lake Forest Area on Jan. 11 to earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.” 

Mancelona had lost 41 straight games before Naniseni took the court for the varsity for the first time and helped the Ironmen to a streak-breaking win in the 2013-14 season opener. Her team is 6-6 this winter, but Mancelona won only four games both last season and in 2014-15 and led during the fourth quarter of four of this winter’s losses. Naniseni is averaging 21.5 points, 13.9 rebounds and 5.6 blocked shots per game making 51 percent of her shots from the floor – she has five triple-doubles over the last four seasons including two this winter. She’s approaching the MHSAA record book list in rebounds with 878 over her career, and her 332 career blocked shots already rank 12th all-time. 

Naniseni – whose first name is pronounced “I-lee-nay” in nods to her maternal great-grandmother Eileene and her father’s Tongan roots – became the third in school history and first since 1996 to reach 1,000 points. She made the all-Ski Vally Conference first team last season after making the second team both of her first two seasons, and she also has earned all-league honors in volleyball and will compete again this spring in track & field running the 400 and participating in discus and high jump. She’s also built a 3.98 grade-point average in earning a basketball scholarship to Lake Superior State University, serving as a basketball team captain for three seasons in addition to providing leadership as well as part of National Honors Society, student council, the school’s peer leaders group and SAFE (Substance Abuse Free Environment).

Coach Ben Tarbutton said: “Eileene has been a great leader and captain for this basketball program. E is one of those players that every coach wishes everyone could be like on a team. Not because of her scoring or rebounding ability, but her determination in building this program up from multiple one or two-win seasons. This is why she has earned the leadership and captain role of the team over the last three years. This year has been one of the most fun years to coach. What is different about this year is we are beating teams that we have not beat in 10 years, and four of our six losses we were leading at one point in the fourth quarter. The only way this is possible is because of the senior group of Eileene Naniseni, Caitlin Ancel, and Jill Smigielski. … Without these three and the leadership of E, our season would not be where it is today. E is a leader in both academics and athletics. She is an individual that exemplifies what a student, athlete, and leader should look like for younger students to follow.

Performance Point: “We don’t normally get a lot of spectators for our games,” Naniseni said. “But the first thing I remember was more people in the stands, more in the student section than I’d seen the past three or four years playing. All my family and friends were there to watch me; that was awesome. And my teammates were so unselfish with the ball – I think I had to get 31 points (to get to 1,000), and whenever they’d get the ball they were thinking ‘E’. I think because it was so close, we wanted to push and get it that night.”

Transformer: “When I first came into (Mancelona) freshman year – I moved to this school in eighth grade (from Central Lake) – I wasn’t aware of how the varsity had been doing, and I didn’t even understand how much that (streak) was until we won our first game. Now that we look back on it, these last couple of years we haven’t been super successful, but I notice right now, I know I’m making an impact. I see it at the younger ages. We do these camps every year … and when I started out there would be two eighth graders or five seventh graders, but this past year the seventh and eighth grade teams have 38 together, and the JV has 12 (players). I want people to get more excited about girls basketball. I want Mancelona to keep growing and progressing. My sophomore year we had six or seven on the varsity team, so it was hard; this year we have nine girls, so that’s the most interest I’ve ever seen and it makes me excited.”

More to accomplish: “We wanted to win more games than in the past, and we’ve already achieved that. We recently beat Onaway and Joburg (Johannesburg-Lewiston), which we hadn’t beaten in 12-15 years. We want to beat them again and beat teams that we’ve been underdogs to for years and that no one expects us to beat. I can tell (from opponents) when we’re warming up that because they’re playing Mancelona, they think it’s going to be an easy win. But I want them to be surprised … because they always underestimate us.” 

Born to lead: “When I was a freshman, I had a really good art teacher who really was into leadership stuff, and the athletic director then let me go to a lot of leadership programs. Those definitely helped shape my leadership qualities and opened my eyes to what a leader should be, and I took a lot of notes. I try to be trustworthy and always try to work hard too – the captain of the team is expected to work hard – and if someone has questions they need to ask or if they need to confide in you, you can listen, but be strong too; you can’t be a pushover. When I was younger, I guess my confidence level, I didn’t realize how much that played a role in being a leader. … I want to build confidence in my teammates to show them that they are good players.”

Dr. Naniseni: “I would like to be a pediatric oncologist, or really anything in pediatrics because I love children. I think I’ll go into biology when I get up to Lake State; I’ve thought about being a teacher, but my family always has been medical-related, and the medical field fascinates me. I like how if (people) are hurting, you can give them something and make them better. That blows my mind sometimes.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2016-17 school year, Second Half and the Michigan National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2016-17 honorees:
Jan. 12: Rory Anderson, Calumet hockey – Read
Dec. 15: Demetri Martin, Big Rapids basketball Read
Dec. 1: Rodney Hall, Detroit Cass Tech football Read
Nov. 24: Ally Cummings, Novi volleyball Read
Nov. 17: Chloe Idoni, Fenton volleyball Read
Nov. 10: Adelyn Ackley, Hart cross country Read
Nov. 3: Casey Kirkbride, Mattawan soccer – Read
Oct. 27: Colton Yesney, Negaunee cross country Read
Oct. 20: Varun Shanker, Midland Dow tennis Read
Oct. 13: Anne Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country – Read
Oct. 6: Shuaib Aljabaly, Coldwater cross country – Read
Sept. 29: Taylor Seaman, Brighton swimming & diving – Read
Sept. 22: Maggie Farrell, Battle Creek Lakeview cross country – Read
Sept. 15: Franki Strefling, Buchanan volleyball – Read
Sept. 8: Noah Jacobs, Corunna cross country – Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Eileene Naniseni, dribbling, works to get past a defender. (Middle) Naniseni, middle, holds up with teammates a banner celebrating her 1,000th point after reaching the milestone Jan. 11 against Fife Lake Forest Area. (Photos by Joanie Moore/

High School 'Hoop Squad' Close to Heart as Hughes Continues Coaching Climb

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

July 11, 2024

Jareica Hughes had a Hall of Fame collegiate basketball career playing at University of Texas-El Paso and has played professionally overseas, but her most prized possession is something she earned playing high school basketball in Michigan. 

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosA standout at now-closed Southfield-Lathrup High School during the early-to-mid 2000s, Hughes proudly displays a signature symbol of Lathrup’s Class A championship team in 2005. 

“I have my state championship ring on me right now,” said Hughes, now an assistant head coach for the women’s basketball program at UTEP. “I wear this ring every single day. Not so much for the basketball aspect. Inside of the ring it says ‘Hoop Squad.’ It’s more the connection I’ve had with those particular young ladies. Friends that I’ve known since I was kid. Every once in a while when we talk, we go back in time.”

Believe it or not, Hughes and her high school teammates next year will have to go back 20 years to commemorate a run to the title that started when they were freshmen. 

It was a gradual build-up to what was the first girls basketball state championship won by a public school in Oakland County. Lathrup, which has since merged with the former Southfield High School to form Southfield Arts & Technology, remained the only public school in Oakland County to win a state girls basketball title until West Bloomfield did so in 2022 and again this past March. 

Lathrup lost in the District round to Bloomfield Hills Marian during Hughes’ freshman year, and then after defeating Marian in a District Final a year later, lost to West Bloomfield in a Regional Final.

When Hughes was a junior, the team got to the state’s final four, but a bad third quarter resulted in a heartbreaking one-point Semifinal loss to eventual champion Lansing Waverly. 

A year later, when Hughes and other core players such as Brittane Russell, Timika Williams, Dhanmite’ Slappey and Briana Whitehead were seniors, they finished the job and won the Class A crown with a 48-36 win over Detroit Martin Luther King in the Final.

However, the signature moment of that title run actually came during the Semifinal round and was produced by Hughes, a playmaking wizard at point guard who made the team go. 

Trailing by three points during the waning seconds of regulation against Grandville and Miss Basketball winner Allyssa DeHaan – a dominant 6-foot-8 center – Hughes drained a tying 3-pointer from the wing that was well beyond the 3-point line. 

Lathrup went on to defeat Grandville in overtime and prevail against King.

Hughes said the year prior, she passed up on taking a potential winning or tying shot in the Semifinal loss against Waverly, and was reminded of that constantly by coaches and teammates. “I just remember in the huddle before that shot, that just kept ringing in my mind,” she said. “That was special. I cried for weeks not being able to get a shot off (the year before) and leaving the tournament like that.”

Growing up in Detroit, Hughes got into basketball mainly because she had five older brothers and an older sister who played the game. In particular, Hughes highlights older brother Gabriel for getting her into the game and taking her from playground to playground.

“I’m from Detroit,” she said. “We played ball all day long. Sunup to sundown. When the light comes on, you had to run your butt into the house.”

Hughes, second from left, begins the championship celebration with her Lathrup teammates at Breslin Center.Hughes played for the Police Athletic League and also at the famed St. Cecilia gym in the summer, developing her game primarily against boys.

“My first team was on a boys team,” she said. “I was a captain on a boys team.” 

The family moved into Lathrup’s district before she began high school. 

Once she helped lead Lathrup to the 2005 championship, she went on to a fine career at UTEP, where she was the Conference USA Player of the Year twice and helped lead the Miners to their first NCAA Tournament appearance.

Hughes still holds school records for career assists (599), steals (277) and minutes played (3,777). On Monday, she was named to Conference USA’s 2024 Hall of Fame class. 

After a brief professional career overseas was derailed by a shoulder injury, Hughes said getting into coaching was a natural fit. 

“I had to make the hard decision, and I knew as a kid I wanted to be around basketball,” she said. “Once I made that decision (to quit), I knew I was going to coach.”

Hughes started coaching in the Detroit area, first serving as an assistant at Southfield A&T from 2016-20 and then at Birmingham Groves for a season. She then served as interim head coach at Colby Community College in Kansas before being named an assistant at UTEP in May 2023, a month after her former coach Keitha Adams returned to lead the program after six seasons at Wichita State.  

While fully immersed in her job with UTEP, Hughes’ high school memories in Michigan certainly aren’t going away anytime soon – especially with the 20th anniversary of Lathrup’s championship coming up. 

“We are still close friends because we all essentially grew up together,” she said. “They are still my friends to this day.”

2024 Made In Michigan

July 10: Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach - Read
June 28:
 E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Southfield-Lathrup’s Jareica Hughes drives to the basket against Detroit Martin Luther King during the 2005 Class A Final; at right, Hughes coaches this past season at UTEP. (Middle) Hughes, second from left, begins the championship celebration with her Lathrup teammates at Breslin Center. (UTEP photo courtesy of the UTEP sports information department.)