Sit down with an athlete: Ellie Chen

With a new team and position, Chen looks forward to her basketball journey at the Mesa
San Diego State University basketball lost to Cal Baptist at Viejas Arena on November 10, 2023. Image Courtesy of San Diego State Athletics (Derrick Tuskan)
San Diego State University basketball lost to Cal Baptist at Viejas Arena on November 10, 2023. Image Courtesy of San Diego State Athletics (Derrick Tuskan)

At four years old, Ellie Chen knew she did not want to be a pianist. She recalled her grandmother going to her house every Sunday to give her piano lessons. 

“Sometimes I would have my piano sheets and I would throw them behind my piano,” said Chen, who is now 19 years old. “So my grandma couldn’t find the notes, (then) I couldn’t play the song and I wouldn’t have to play as long.” 

All she wanted to do was be at the basketball clinic, to learn the fundamentals of dribbling, jump stop, and pivot.

“I remember only wanting to play basketball,” she said.

However, being good at basketball was not enough, especially growing up in an Asian household. Education was as important and was weighed heavily.  

“A lot of the time, my parents … I would say they are strict. They wouldn’t let me go out as much as my friends,” Chen said. “They were pretty hard on me getting good grades and just doing well in school.”

Throughout high school, Chen made the All-California Interscholastic Federation selection four times: twice for the first team and twice for the second team. She was included in the All-Area team and All-League teams four times. 

She also helped La Salle High School reach the 3AA CIF Southern Section Championship and the 2AA CIF Championship. Academically, she earned the President’s Honor and Gold honors and was in the Math and Science Honor Society.

Her goal then was to play at the collegiate level.

Yet, two setbacks happened. She tore her ACL in her left leg as a sophomore and then tore her right ACL in her junior year. 

“It was pretty hard for me to get offers or even looks just because I couldn’t play as much as the other girls could have,” Chen said.

Despite having a reputable record in high school, her injuries hindered her the opportunity to get recruited. However, Chen persevered and knew her chance would come.

“I reached out to the coaches and asked them about possibly walking on or being a manager,” she said. “And it just so happened that a few months into school they were holding tryouts. I basically just went to the tryouts and they liked the way I played and gave me a spot on the team.”

Making the team was only the beginning of a new adventure, there are still a lot of changes she needs to adapt to. Particularly with the basketball knowledge and physicality of the players.

“I’m playing with  24-year-olds, 20-years-olds, it’s a big jump from playing high school where you were with like freshmen — some kids that don’t even know how to play,” Chen said. “Speed-wise, agility-wise, the girls are much faster and have a higher IQ.” 

“Everyone knows how to play. Everyone’s good at what they do. I’m still adjusting to it, but the speed aspect and being able to play defense and getting your shot off quick enough is definitely something that I had to get better at,” she said.

Her role on the team also changed.

“At high school, I did play a lot, and I also was a shooting guard, so it was very different because right now I’m a point guard at SDSU,” she said. “It was a big change in the leadership role aspect.”

Furthermore, there was the transition from starter to bench player.

“It’s new watching from the sideline and getting a game here and there but I learned a lot from the side and also just from practice too,” she said. “We’re always learning. Always learning how to get better. It’s a new environment and it’s really cool to be able to be a part of all of this.”

She called studying and playing basketball at San Diego State University “a perfect route.” 

“I liked the campus a lot, so that’s one of the main reasons I chose it,” she said. “And they also have a specific kinesiology pre-(physical therapy) program, which is very important to me because I want to become a (doctor of physical therapy).”

Her ACL injuries led her to pick kinesiology with an emphasis on pre-PT as her major.

“Since I was constantly at physical therapy and working out to strengthen my knee, I developed a passion to learn about the human body,” she said. “And I want to help heal other athletes and other people with injuries.”

She already had a plan in mind for her future. 

“After college, I feel like I might move on, going to grad school and focusing on my career, which would be to become a DPT,” she said. “The only other way I would be playing is overseas or at the WNBA, but those never really had been my goals in life. I kind of just like playing basketball for fun.”

Her goal for now would be to concentrate on her education and basketball.

“I only have three years left. I hope to still be playing basketball at SDSU,” Chen said.


About the Contributor
Christie Yeung, '24-25 News Editor
Born in Hong Kong, Christie Yeung is a first-generation transfer student who majors in journalism at San Diego State University. Prior to arriving at SDSU, she served as the Gaming/Tech Editor, Features Editor and Managing Editor of SAC Media at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California where she was placed in on-the-spot competitions such as fourth in News photo, second in Portrait photo, first in Sports photo, first in Social Media and second in News writing, along with a meritorious mention in the Enterprise News Story/Series category from Journalism Association of Community Colleges. She was also awarded second in Best Breaking News Stories by the California College Media Association. During her free time, she likes to watch European soccer games, read, listen to Cantonese-pop music and play video games and Dungeons & Dragons with her online friends. She also has a sweet tooth and cannot turn away anything with Nutella in it.