West Valley City • Noah Togiai peeks his head through the sliver of the doorway’s opening, from the gym into the hallway, where students still are filtering out of class. The thunks of basketballs against hardwood and plexiglass begin to echo.
An afternoon practice soon will begin, and Togiai’s teammates are emerging onto the court, but voices from the hall are calling. He acknowledges them, first a broad-shouldered boy then a tan brunette. A group of several more follow, some with backpacks slung over their arms.
Year » Junior
Position » Guard
School » Hunter
College commit » Utah
Here in the halls of Hunter High School, it appears — as his coach soon confirms — everybody knows Noah Togiai. They know he is the tall Hawaiian whose accent still is strong and whose smile seldom fades. And they know he is outgoing and kind and that he excels on the gridiron, where he amassed 859 yards receiving and seven touchdowns this season for the Wolverines.
They know one more thing about him, something few outside these halls seem to have noticed — that Togiai is one of the best basketball players in the state.
"A lot of people say I’m flying under the radar," he said, returning to the court, where he watches his teammates play scattered pickup games on the hoops that line Hunter’s gym.
Hunter coach Dave Filimoehala understands why Togiai has gone this long blending in on the court, with little fanfare and few headlines. He sees the talented junior guard every day and has a first-row seat to the subtleties of Togiai’s game that are easy to miss.
Instead of dropping highlight plays — though that certainly is something of which Togiai is capable, Filimoehala said — Togiai is at his best when he’s scanning the floor, looking for opportunities to get his teammates involved. The intricacies, the things that slip by unnoticed to a casual fan, are what make Togiai great.
"He’s one of those players you’ve got to watch for a while to realize how good he is and what he can do and some of the attributes he has that coaches really like," Filimoehala said.
Adds Togiai about his low-key style of play: "I like to get my teammates open a lot. A lot of people don’t know that I can shoot. I just never choose to shoot the ball. But when I shoot it, most of the time it goes in."
Togiai insists the lack of recognition he’s gotten so far actually is a good thing. That many people don’t recognize him as an elite player isn’t so much fuel on the fire or a chance to prove doubters wrong as it is an opportunity to make a good first impression.
"I can prove to people what I can do because nobody really knows about me yet," he said.
Of course, that is starting to change. Togiai committed to the University of Utah last month, and statewide awareness of the junior guard has jumped. Togiai knows that scrutiny will follow in the coming months and years. The days of relative anonymity are nearing an end.
"Coming into the season, my parents talked to me about how people are actually going to start paying attention to me," he said. "I’m just trying to make a good impression on everybody."
And if he fails this season to convert the masses? If his name still seldom is mentioned alongside the state’s elite?
He offers a shrug of his shoulders.
"Sooner or later," he said, "they’ll know."
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.