Easter Faafiti, Nukeitra Hayes pushing Gallaudet women's basketball to new heights

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2011; 12:16 AM

Before Easter Faafiti arrived at Gallaudet, Nukeitra Hayes knew plenty about her.

Coach Kevin Cook "talked about her all the time," Hayes said through an interpreter. "He showed me pictures of her every day and said, 'This is the girl you're going to be playing with.' . . . I knew that she was a good player. I always wanted to play with a player like this, that's really talented."

Faafiti, a 5-foot-10 forward-center who transferred to Gallaudet before her junior year, was a two-time all-state selection at Pasadena Community College and had led the Lancers to their first California Community College Athletic Association title in 2009. Hayes, a 6-foot center who had been the Capital Athletic Conference rookie of the year her freshman year, was looking forward to having someone who could draw away some of the double- and triple-teams she was facing.

Cook knew the pairing of the two talented post players, who now are seniors, could be just what the Bison needed.

"Last year I had several meetings with them both, saying, 'Hey, if you guys ever learn to play with each other you'd be pretty difficult,' " Cook said. "It took them almost a year to learn how to play together. Now we're seeing the fruits of that this year."

Faafiti and Hayes have become a dynamic duo for Gallaudet (14-0), propelling the Bison to their best season in more than a decade and their best start in school history. They are ranked No. 24 in Division III, their first appearance in the rankings since 1999. Their 14 consecutive wins are one shy of the school record.

For Faafiti and Hayes, learning to play together didn't come naturally. It took some time because first they had to learn how to communicate with each other at Gallaudet, a school for the deaf and hard of hearing in Northeast Washington.

Faafiti attended a mainstream high school and learned Signed Exact English, in which a sign is executed for every word, rather than American Sign Language, which uses hand gestures and symbols and has its own grammar and syntax. Hayes attended Indiana School for the Deaf and had been signing since she was 6.

"I felt like I wanted to come here because I wanted to learn about my culture, which is deaf culture," Faafiti said through an interpreter. "It was a huge change for me, big time. At first, I was thinking: 'How does a deaf team know when the ref blows a whistle? How do they stop and how do they know what's going on?' I was actually worried about that and wondering about that for a long time. And the signing, I was like, man, I can't sign and run and play basketball at the same time. I can't do all that.

"It actually took a long time for me to adjust to the culture and the communication barrier. Finally this year, things just clicked with me. I bond well with everybody. We work together. Now that I know signs, I communicate with my teammates. I feel like I grew up with these girls my whole life."

Hayes, who helped Faafiti with her signing, said her teammate was a quick learner.

"This team is a lot different because in years past most of the kids were from residential deaf schools and now there's more diversity because we have kids from deaf schools and kids from mainstream schools," Hayes said. "When we all came together, we were on different pages but we found a way to communicate with each other."

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