In 2015 I met Louis Tang at the Nike All Taiwan Camp. He was the youngest camper there and from the Southern city of Kaohsiung. My friend Jerry Ho who has been instrumental in helping place Taiwanese players in the US wanted Louis to attend high school in the states. The main purpose of this approach is to have these players learn English, the US culture, and play at a higher level of basketball than they would in Taiwan. The hope is that in the near future this will bolster the strength of the country’s national team.
When I first met Louis, he was very shaky on the court. He played rushed and didn’t always know what was going on. He didn’t have a feel for the game yet. But you could see flashes of potential. At that 2015 camp you wouldn’t have pegged him as a D1 player. He also couldn’t speak any English. He would give you a blank look when you said anything to him that wasn’t Mandarin. He had work to do. I didn’t want to bring him over to the states without him having another year to adjust to the game.
In 2016 I went back to the Nike All Taiwan Camp. This time Louis was much better as a player but he still struggled with English. We had a school willing to take him in Virginia that was solid academically and proven in basketball. The Blue Ridge School outside of Charlottesville loved Louis’s potential but they needed him to improve his English. His TOEFL score did not meet the minimum requirement for admission. This is the test that non-English speakers take to show their English proficiency. To help with this Blue Ridge’s Coach Cade Lemcke found the Virginia International Academy in Front Royal Virginia. This is a pre-high school prep program for 8th graders going into 9th grade. Students from China will attend this school to learn English and the US culture. Louis would be the oldest student there as well as the only one from Taiwan.
While he would be focused on learning English, he would also need to train every day on the court. The plan was for him to get his TOEFL score up, then attend Blue Ridge midyear in January. Louis worked his tail off in both the classroom and on the court. One of the advantages of this school is that no Mandarin is to be spoken during most of the day, and cell phones are only allowed for 2 hours on the weekend. This total immersion is key in speeding up the comprehension of a new language. While Louis improved both his TOEFL and English proficiency, Blue Ridge admissions felt it did not meet midyear enrollment standards. He was disappointed but kept working away. At the end of the year, Blue Ridge administrators still weren’t convinced that the TOEFL scores would translate into making it through the rigors of a college preparatory academic environment like theirs. The case was made that Louis’ work ethic and passion to succeed would help him overcome the short-term gaps in his English proficiency, but the school would not budge on their decision. Louis would not be granted admission for the next fall. He was crushed. The main reason Louis went to VIA was so he could attend Blue Ridge. He turned down other options where he could have been learning English, taking other core courses and playing a good level of basketball. He really wanted to attend Blue Ridge, and put those things on hold as he focused on improving his English proficiency at VIA. That was time he could not get back, but Louis would not be discouraged.
Instead of letting this get him down it created a fire inside that pushed him even harder. With some help I got Louis placed at St Mary’s Ryken which is a member of the toughest basketball conference in the US: the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC). This conference includes national powerhouses DeMatha, Gonzaga, and Paul IV to name a few. He would be tested basketball-wise on a daily basis. The schooling was also going to be a challenge.
Once we got him settled into school and with a host family he thrived in the classroom. Louis finished his first semester with a 4.0 and ended his Junior year with a 3.9 GPA. Sure, his TOEFL didn’t get as high as Blue Ridge wanted, but he was getting good grades and even scored a 1000 the first time he took the SAT. This is an amazing score for someone who didn’t speak English 24 months prior.
His team at St Mary’s Ryken included players who committed to play for Boston College and Denver University. His first game was against a Baltimore team with a University of Kentucky signee. The game was quicker than he was used to, but he adjusted quickly during the season and found himself in the starting lineup. The one constant for Louis was that he always played as hard as he could each time he got on the court. His first season in the WCAC was invaluable in improving his game. The following AAU season Louis made an impression on coaches with his intensity and improved skillset. The VMI coaches saw him this summer and made him their number one priority. He received multiple D2 offers, but D1 was always his goal. He committed to VMI shortly after his official visit. A bonus is that Taiwan has over twenty students attending VMI. When they graduate they will return to Taiwan to serve in the country’s military. These peers will help Louis with his adjustment to the military lifestyle at VMI.
While D1 is a goal for most players it is a difficult one to achieve. I have helped many players reach this goal, but none have taken such measures as Louis has. I am proud of his efforts and look forward to seeing him grow even more.