Buffalo Wild Wings (or as the Midwesterners say, Bdubs) is one of my favorite places to eat on campus. Yes, they have good wings, and yes West Lafayette, IN (where Purdue is located) does not have many options, but I really like going because more often than not women’s college basketball is being aired, and I can casually point to the TV screens, and point out a couple of girls whom I used to play basketball with from elementary to high school.

Most of the time I would just say, “Yeah I know them,” as in, I think we’re still friends on Facebook, but when Baylor Women’s basketball is playing and I look for my old friend Natalie Chou, “I know her,” means something completely different.

I was terrible at basketball before I met Natalie, I had been an ice skater since I was a tot and when the ballet classes, and the private lessons, and the traveling for tournaments got too expensive my mom switched me to a lower budget sport, basketball.

In the little leagues I was awful but so was everyone else so it seemed to be the norm. But after elementary school was over and middle school rolled around my fellow teammates, and their parents started taking sports more seriously.

By middle school (for me), Natalie (still in elementary school) had already began to be the talk of the Dallas Fort-Worth area, in the close knit network of soccer moms and dad coaches. It was quite a sight to see a young Asian girl with undeniable talent and skill dominate at every tournament hosted by all the sports centers in the area. Meanwhile, as the spotlight was shone on Natalie, I was the other Asian girl, average ball handling, average shooting, but I never did mind or feel jealous. I honestly thought it was quite a privilege to marvel at my teammates athleticism from such close quarters.

It also helped that Natalie was (and still is) always so friendly and humble, never did she scream at me on the court if I did something dumb (and deserved it). I even remember being super flattered once when I liked her “TBH” post, back when that was a thing, and she wrote on my wall that she thought I was “nice and athletic.”

During our time as teammates, I visited her room for the first time, before we had to go to a weekend long tournament, and she had this star student poster she made as a toddler. On it she listed her mom (our coach) as her hero and also detailed how she wanted to become a WNBA player. I remember thinking at the time that there was still such a long way to go for that to happen. Plus, we were never the best dressed team, the team with the fanciest matching shoes; most of our practices were held at old courts that converted into the chapel of protestant churches, or cramped courts adjacent to a ping-pong/ mathematics academy. I didn’t initially think with the resources our team had, that the Dream Team would be cut out to raise a WNBA player, even though Natalie was the most hard-working player I’ve played with.

As high school rolled around I only got as far as playing on Junior Varsity my sophomore year, before the Varsity head coach cut me from the team as I tried to move up to Varsity my junior year. Natalie, on the other hand, made Varsity her freshman year and thrived, always making the local paper for her commendable stats. I tried to go to their home games, and occasionally I would text her something encouraging after the game, in hopes to stay in touch. With distant, time and being busy with different career goals, we grew apart.

Natalie went on to play for the McDonald’s All-American Team, she played for the USA team for seventeen year olds.  Year after year, the news of her rapid progress turned into the makings of a WNBA player right before my eyes.

As an Industrial Engineering major we constantly learn methods on how to optimize processes, how to use the least amount of resources to work smarter to get to your goal. It was until I understood the concept of optimization, than I truly understood Natalie’s  monumental journey to becoming a top recruit for college basketball. It was her energy, her hard work, her time, and literal blood sweat and tears, that brought her to where she is today, not the flashy and nice accessories or an expensive personalized uniform.

Now, when I come home and I see the Baylor Women’s basketball superstar, Natalie, still practicing at the local gym with her mom and my old coach, I remind myself of Natalie’s perseverance, hard work, and try to also live with that attitude in hopes that like Natalie, I can also optimize my path to reaching my goals.

HAPPY 19th BIRTHDAY NATALIE! Thanks for never giving up!

My claim to fame…throwback to 2nd grade Natalie playing on our 4th grade club team (2005).