LOS ANGELES — For Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we (virtually) sat down with Natalie Chou, shooting guard for the UCLA Bruins, and discussed the importance this month brings and more about her journey growing up as an athlete.
How did you start playing basketball?
I started playing basketball when I was 4 or 5 years old. My mom is known in the Dallas area as a coach and she actually introduced me to basketball. My parents came over to America when I was just about to be born and my mom didn’t know anyone here or the language, but she knew basketball. She played professionally starting at age 13 overseas in China.
Who did you look up to while growing up?
When I was in middle school, I was coached by Jason Terry, seasoned NBA player for the Dallas Mavericks and nicknamed “The Jet”, who is a legend in Dallas.
He has a daughter that is the same age as me and when she didn’t have a summer league to play in, he created one for her. One day he saw my mom and me working out on the court and asked if we wanted to join his league – ever since then he’s been my mentor and one of my favorite people.
Have you ever felt like you’ve had to dim your light, your achievements, or your successes for the comfort of others?
When in high school, definitely. The competition to be seen by college scouts was intense and my coaches would pull me aside sometimes and say, “Nat, your teammates need the scouts to look at them too so just give them a chance…”.
Thankfully, I haven’t felt this in my basketball life at UCLA. I’m blessed to be a part of a team where everyone – the staff and the players – are walking together and growing together. The staff does such a great job of highlighting each and every player so we don’t have to feel that way.
Why do you think AAPI Heritage Month matters in today’s world?
Recently, hate crimes have been escalating against Asian people because of the rhetoric surrounding COVID and that has been so harmful to the AAPI community. So this month, right now especially, it’s important to shed light on our stories.
I think a lot of times, we are overlooked when it comes to storytelling. This month serves as a great time to celebrate where we’re from, how far we’ve come, and all aspects of who we are. There’s more than one dimension to us as a people — we’re so unique and versatile and it’s great to celebrate that.
Also, being able to see on social media all the different things the AAPI community is so invested in whether it be sports, entertainment, business, etc, it’s so cool to see how far our impact is reaching, not only in this country, but around the world.
What helps you pick yourself back up on hard days?
I’m a person of faith so my relationship with God helps keep me at a good stasis. It’s grounding for me to remind myself that it’s not about what I do, but who I am that really matters.
🔥Rapid fire questions🔥
What’s your hype song?
I’m so embarrassed because I’m a nap person. My team loves to play pump up music in the locker room and get ready that way, but for me and a few other teammates, we have to go to another locker room and fall asleep in a dark room while listening to podcasts or Taylor Swift. I like to be calm.
Do you have a favorite memory during a game?
The game against USC during my first or second year playing for UCLA is one I remember vividly. We didn’t win, but I hit a game-tying shot that put us into overtime. It was a 3-point shot at the buzzer.
But honestly, the best memories are off the court—just hanging out and spending time with my teammates.
What would you say to your younger self?
I think I would tell the younger me not to put so much pressure on myself, and not care so much about what other people think because it really doesn’t matter.
I would tell her to just have fun. Growing up, basketball felt more like pressure than fun because I put so much on myself but now that I’ve been able to have so much fun playing recently, I wish it could’ve been like that growing up. So I’d tell her to have fun and not overthink so much and just play the game you love.
Here are a few organizations you can support for AAPI Month 👇:
For more about Natalie Chou, follow Instagram account natalie_chou_.
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