My dorm room is decked out. My mom and I spent the entire first day that I moved in decorating it — the perfect way to start my freshman year at Texas A&M. It’s got everything. Memorabilia from high school, like my Jordan Brand Classic, McDonald’s All-American and Team USA jerseys. Pictures on the walls of my family. It’s even got some real nice plants and comfy cushions to make it feel like a home.
But, without a doubt, my favorite thing in my place is my PS4.
Because when I’m not hoopin’, that’s where I’m hoopin’, you know?
I play Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto sometimes, but I’m an NBA 2K girl at heart. My roommate, Kayla Wells, who is also a freshman on our team, doesn’t really game. So I put in work on MyPlayer mode. If you don’t know what that is, basically you create a player and go through the process of getting drafted into the NBA and then — eventually and hopefully — you become a star.
My player is called Chennedy Carter.
Oh — real quick: It’s pronounced “Kennedy” just in case you ain’t with it.
So, yeah, the 2K version of Chennedy Carter is a shifty guard who got selected third overall in the draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. I had to grind it out my rookie season. I didn’t get a lot of minutes at the start, but as the season progressed coach got more comfortable with me. It was still mostly the Giannis Show so I contributed however I could. We had a good season and we ended up getting to the finals against the Warriors. This was the big time. And I was starting now, too. It was your girl against Steph, KD and the gang.
I think it was like Game 5 or something — I can’t quite remember if it was elimination but we were down in the series and needed a win. We were losing by two with a few seconds to go and we had the ball. Khris Middleton inbounded to me and I put up a three to win it.
It rimmed out.
My player in 2K was sort of like peak Allen Iverson.
Sweatband on the elbow and shooting sleeve on the other arm. And sick handles. I remember when I was six or seven years old, I stumbled across a video on YouTube of A.I. crossing up Michael Jordan. And, man … I was sold. I wanted to be like A.I. He had that swagger about him. He was the best ball handler in the league when he played, don’t @ me. The things he could do with a basketball — they were just so cool. I wanted to have handles like that.
So my dad came up with the perfect drill for me: In our backyard in Mansfield, Texas, he’d make me dribble a tennis ball in the grass. At first it was impossible. I could get one or two dribbles and the ball would bounce off my palm and go five feet the wrong way. I’d get mad. I wanted to be A.I.
“If you can learn to dribble in this grass,” my dad would say. “Imagine what you could do with a basketball.”
He was right. And I needed good handles because I had two older brothers and a younger one who played on the street with me. And they were physical. Like we’d play two-on-two, and, no joke, it was straight up street rules. Elbows were flyin’, hair was getting pulled, bodies being thrown around — anything went. Sometimes kids from around the neighborhood would join in … but never any girls. It was always me and a bunch of boys. So I got better because I had to be. Otherwise they’d kick me right out.
Sometimes my brothers would lower the hoop and dunk on me. It didn’t bother me. I did my work below all that. My dad and I worked on my handles for hours and hours and hours. I started to get the hang of the tennis ball drill — my confidence was high and I remember asking my dad to play some one-on-one.
“Nah, I don’t want to school you.”
“You won’t,” I said.
“I will.” he fired back.
He was right. I was only eight. But I had that confidence. That A.I. swagger. This went on for a few years. My challenge to myself was to get good enough to beat my dad and brothers. That was my goal. It was all I knew.
Then in 2011, when I was 13, I started watching the Texas A&M women’s basketball team. College Station is only about two hours from where I lived near Mansfield so we got most of their games on TV. They made me fall in love with college basketball. Sydney Colson, Danielle Adams, Tyra White … that team was good. Real good. They went on to win the national championship and that got me hooked.
I wanted to play college basketball.
And I wanted to be an Aggie.
Later that year I challenged my dad again.
I beat him.
He was pissed, for real. But he knew I could ball. My parents started putting me in camps as I got older and they gave me the opportunity to pursue a future in basketball. One of the camps was a few years ago in College Station. It was my first time there. I was playing AAU ball and Texas A&M hosted a camp for some players from around the area.
That’s when I met Coach Blair. He and a few of the A&M assistant coaches were watching us and I spoke with him after practice. He was open and honest about what kind of program they had and what it meant to be an Aggie. And he told me I handled the ball really well. Oh, he gets it, I thought.
And College Station … it just felt good. It felt like home.
A year after that camp, I committed to A&M, and on a hot August day I drove from Mansfield with my mom to start my life as an Aggie.
It was pretty surreal to get there and actually realize you’re a part of this great school and program. I was a little nervous at first, but girls like Anriel Howard and Khaalia Hillsman really welcomed me and made feel a part of the team. They’re two of our more veteran players and and they spent extra time with me after practice and showed me around campus — it meant a lot to me. But I was still nervous heading into Maroon Madness in October.
It was my first time in front of a big crowd at Reed Arena. It was just … it was dope. After that night — the way the crowd cheered us on and accepted me — I felt amazing. I felt like I belonged.
That feeling has grown, too. As the season has gone on our team has just become closer and closer. From Coach Blair to the veterans and freshmen like me — we’re one big family.
And the locker room is our living room. It’s our spot. I’m going to give you the quick tour:
Alright, so you just stepped inside our living room at Reed Arena. First thing you see is Emer Nichols and she dancin’. Kayla is sitting there quietly and getting dressed, she’s in the zone. I’m beside her on my phone, scrolling through Twitter or Instagram. Then you’ve got Khaalia and Danni Williams and they’re schemin’. They got the whiteboard out and they’re trying to figure out how we’re going to beat whoever we’re playing. Aaliyah Wilson is in the middle of the room cracking jokes — nobody is safe. Then, in the corner, is the Flossy Posse: That’s Anriel, Lulu McKinney and Jaz Lumpkin … they’re wild. They talk about everything. Their night, their classes, TV shows, and they’re dancin’ and doing their own thing.
Everyone else is just having a good time. That’s our group. We have fun. And, on the court, we’ve been getting better and better. We started the season ranked No. 20, but we knew how tough the SEC is. We learned a lot about ourselves throughout the year and closed out the regular season strong, ranked No. 14 and playing well.
The loss in the SEC semifinals to Mississippi State on March 3 … not going to lie, it sucked. It was tough to end the tournament like that. But I was proud, because I knew we gave our everything. We played together. And when we do that, we’ll win more often than not.
Coach gave us a great talk after the loss and we went into the NCAA tournament with a lot of confidence and a little A.I. swagger. We beat Drake in the first round and that confidence carried over to the DePaul game in the round of 32. But that first half … we couldn’t hit anything. I couldn’t hit anything. I had five points in the first half. Five. And we were down 15.
Coach sat us all down.
“Look,” he said, “the toughest team is going to win this game. Dig deep, find your game. You’re winners. We’re winners. Let’s find a way.”
We were playing at home. I wasn’t going to let that crowd see us lose like this — no way. When games got tough with my brothers or dad, I focused on my strength: The dribble. I put my head down in the second half and that’s when shots started dropping. We were still down six with just under two minutes to go. We stepped up on defense and I made a few shots, but I missed a free throw and we needed another stop.
DePaul’s Kelly Campbell missed her shot and Jaz Lumpkin came up with a huuuuuge board. She passed the ball to me and I remember glancing at the clock … 10.4 seconds to go.
I started dribbling and someone tried to steal the ball so I hit ’em with the crossover. I peeked one more time at the clock and there was five seconds.
I was like, “Dang, this is our moment.”
And I put it up.
I knew it was good. I just had to wait for it to go in to celebrate.
DePaul barely had enough time for an inbound on the next play and Jaz stole the ball.
I couldn’t quite do it in 2K, but I made up for it in real life.
The arena was loud. Really, really loud. I couldn’t even hear myself think. I saw my parents running toward the bench when the game ended. It was just dope. So, so dope. I remember thinking how proud I am to be an Aggie.
I did my press conference and as I got close to our locker room I could hear the girls whispering.
They were like, “Oh … oh, here she come, here she come, here she come. C’mon Chen! Issssssssss President Chen!”
Then they hit me with the waters and Gatorade. I was drenched. It was sweet.
That moment meant so much to me. To be able to lead our team like that, I feel so blessed. So many people — coaches who thought I was too small, boys who tried to beat me in street ball — never believed in me. Coach Blair did. My teammates did. The 12th Man did. They trusted a freshman to take that shot, and it meant the world to me.
I hope I repaid that faith.
But, you’ve heard, right? We ain’t done yet.
We’re just gettin’ started.