By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Welcome to another edition of The Layup Drill. This month, we look at two teens on their way up and a basketball numbers guy on the way to the Bay Area.
Teen tennis phenom must make a choice
Southern California native Claire Liu made waves this summer when she became the first U.S. junior to win at Wimbledon in 25 years. The 17-year-old faces a decision as to whether to turn pro or go to college. As the number 1 junior in the world, the choice will be tough.
Liu has excelled in tennis at a young age. Her parents had never seen tennis prior to coming to the United States from China. They participated in a recreational league and brought Liu along. She did not begin taking tennis lessons until she was 5 years old. Less than 10 years later at age 14, she won a Pro Circuit title to be the youngest woman to win a pro tournament since Anna
Kournikova. At 15, she made the final round of qualifying for the U.S. Open. Still a teen, it’s clear that Liu would have no problem playing against other professional competitors of any age.
While she may be seen as a tennis prodigy, her ascension is nothing like most young tennis players. She was not sent away to play tennis or go to a tennis academy. In fact, she still lives with her parents. She grew up in Thousand Oaks, Calif. and trains at the United States Tennis Association in Carson. Despite being over 50 miles away from her home, Liu’s mom drives her back and forth to train daily.
Liu’s path to tennis stardom is not a traditional one. Her parents do not have an athletic background — they are both chemists. She is not represented by an agent or accompanied by handlers when she plays in tournaments. Her family values education and Liu admits to thinking about college. But her improvement on the court has made going to college a direction to go after a career in tennis. Many of the young players with whom she competes and trains with have already turned pro, and a choice to head to college may stave off competition for a while. It would also take away from her earnings potential as a tennis player.
However, coaches noted her gift and tennis acumen at a young age. She also honed her knowledge of the sport by reading a lot of books authored by tennis legends like Pete Sampras, Tracy Austin, and Michael Chang. The family has become friends with Carl Chang, the brother and former coach of Michael.
In late August, Liu lost in an early round singles match against Duan Yingying of China in the U.S. Open during the first week of the tournament in New York. She also lost in the round of 64 in doubles competition. With the losses, this might cause Liu to reconsider once again whether to go to college or turn pro.
At 5 feet 6 inches tall, Liu is not an imposing figure on the court. Yet, her grounded nature seems to allude to the fact that she is her own person and will make the best decision for her future.
High school sophomore lands college baseball scholarship
Eastside Catholic High School’s Kenji Suzuki has verbally committed to play baseball at Clemson University in South Carolina. Just an incoming sophomore in high school, Suzuki is an infielder for the Crusaders. Since Suzuki is not a senior yet, he can give only a verbal commitment and cannot file the necessary paperwork to make it official. He called Clemson his “dream school.”
Suzuki garnered nationwide attention playing in club games and appearing in Perfect Game amateur tournaments. This past summer, he was a standout at the Perfect Game 15U World Series in Cartersville, Ga. The tournament praised Suzuki, “The 6-foot, 180-pound Washington native showed quality actions out at shortstop with smoothness to his hands and the ability to range to both sides well. He made a couple of twitchy plays that highlighted his athleticism and warrants more looks at the position.”
While he may not be heading to college until 2020, Suzuki received interest in schools all over the country, including TCU, Arizona, Arizona State, Virginia, North Carolina, Southern Cal, LSU, and Oregon State.
At age 16, Suzuki has made an impression with college baseball coaches and already has a college choice even before he has a driver’s license.
Former UW basketball analytics head moves to Bay Area
Pabail Sidhu did not make his name on the court, but with numbers. The former basketball analytics guru for the University of Washington (UW), Sidhu has landed a position doing sports statistics with the NBA World Champions Golden State Warriors.
Not only do coaches evaluate athlete talent, they now are seeking statistical analysis from people like Sidhu. Many professional teams have adopted to evaluating statistics and numbers in order to make their teams better on the court. Sidhu was the first hire in collegiate athletics to do sports analytics and data analysis on a full-time basis.
Sidhu crunched numbers during Husky men’s basketball games and provided real-time analytics to help the coaching staff during games.
Sidhu is admittedly a basketball junkie. A graduate of the UW, he first worked with the UW Athletic Department, but his passion for basketball led him to become the Director of Basketball Strategies for Coach Lorenzo Romar. Holding that post for five years, Sidhu moves to the Bay Area to work with the likes of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Sidhu will work in the front office and focus on long-term projects centered around player and team evaluations. He told the Tacoma News Tribune, “I’ll kind of be creating my own work as I go.” He started his job in late June working with the Warriors in preparing for the 2017 NBA draft. ■
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.