November 27, 2013, published in the Orange County Register
Carol Jue was one of only three Asian players on Montebello High School’s girls basketball team in the mid-‘80s. The rest of her teammates, like the surrounding East Los Angeles neighborhood she grew up in, were Latino. Montebello played against teams comprised of mostly black, Latino and white players.
Jue, a Chinese-American, knew she was different, but didn’t feel that way on the court. There, the only things that mattered were the arc on your jump-shot or the intensity of your defense. Jue didn’t see herself as an Asian ballplayer; she was just a ballplayer.
“It was normal to be the only Asian. I never thought about it,” she said. “I didn’t really see those barriers yet.”
But the barriers that were once fleeting are clearer now.
Jue, 45, is the only Chinese-American head coach for women’s or men’s basketball in the entire NCAA, across all divisions. And many of her Chapman players, past and present, are Asian.
Now in her 11th season, she is Chapman’s all-time winningest women’s basketball coach, having won her 200th career game last season.
Though her playing days are over, Jue still laces up her high-tops to shoot hoops with her team. Running up and down the floor, Jue looks around and sees she’s no longer the only Asian player in the gym. And her players look at her and see that barriers can be broken, one basket at a time.
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Jue’s parents were from a small village three hours from Guangzhou, China. When Jue was three months old, the family immigrated to California to pursue a better life.
Once there, her parents sewed clothing seven days a week in a garment factory, eventually owning their own company. Jue started working for her father when she was 10, aspiring to own her own business one day. But as the garment industry grew more unstable, the family turned to exporting and importing thread instead.
Jue listened to her parents’ stories about life in China. How it took her father four hours to walk to school. How people in the village struggled to find work. Stitched into her mind was the notion that she had to do better.
“They were dirt poor,” Jue said of her parents. “What came from that was hard work, and that ethic means everything to us.”
Her parents made earning a college degree mandatory. Jue studied accounting while playing basketball at Cal State Los Angeles, one of the few Asian players on a team mostly comprised of Latino, black and white players.
For one game, CSULA traveled to play Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, a predominantly white team. Their fans shouted racial slurs at a black CSULA player, becoming louder with each passing quarter.
Jue was on the bench but each insult pierced her. She had never heard anything like it before. Then she realized she was different, too, and could have been a target that night.
“I never felt that until then,” Jue said. “And I never forgot it.”
She transferred to Claremont McKenna College, playing for the Athenas from 1991 to ‘92. Once again, she was one of the few Asian players on her team and in the conference.
During a game, an opponent subbed in and yelled out, “I got the China girl,” pointing at Jue.
In another game, Jue had the ball stolen from her. “Oriental,” the player taunted, dribbling away to the other end of the court.
China girl. Oriental. Neither name matched up with “point guard,” the way Jue had defined herself up to that point. And both cut equally deep.
She would use the game to fight back, becoming an all-conference player.
“It became personal,” Jue said. “I looked at myself like, ‘You know what? I’m going to be a better basketball player than you on the court at all times. I’m going to play harder on you so you can’t say anything to me.’
“Because I loved basketball, I wouldn’t let it bother me. It fueled my fire. It made me a better person today.”
It also drove her into coaching.
Jue spent four years as an assistant coach at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and served as interim head coach in 2002-03. During that time, CMS posted a 66-34 record (.660), winning a conference championship and finishing in second place twice. Jue became head coach at Chapman in 2003.
She expects her players to dive for every loose ball and protect it like they’ll never see one again.
“When she’s on the court, she needs to get business done,” said Sandra Gao, a sophomore on the team. “She’ll push you to the limit.”
Because the majority of the team is 5-foot-6 or shorter, they rely on their quickness to rattle opponents. Chapman presses and double-teams for the entire game as each player defends with the mindset that their player shouldn’t even be able to catch the ball.
With that system, Jue has guided Chapman to seven 20-win seasons, including a 21-6 campaign and a conference tournament finals appearance in 2012-13. She holds a 197-74 (.727) overall record at Chapman, leading the Panthers to seven NCAA Division III playoff berths.
But her impact has been felt far beyond the court. Jue is considered a role model for the Asian-American women on her team as well as an inspiration in many Asian-American communities across Southern California.
Chapman’s student body is approximately 10 percent Asian, and in recent years there have been many Asian players on the team.
“People look at our team and they don’t take us seriously,” said Gao, who was born in China before her family moved to California when she was 9.
“They laugh because we’re smaller and because we’re Asian. But because (Coach Jue) is Chinese, she can relate. She tells us we just have to prove people wrong.”
She’s inspired many of her players to pursue coaching, including Lauren Kamiyama, who graduated from Chapman in 2009 as the Panthers’ all-time assists leader.
As a first-year head coach at North Torrance High School in 2012-13, Kamiyama led her team to the CIF quarterfinals. Kamiyama, who is Japanese, says Jue has remained a mentor.
“She’s causing a lot more Asians to think about going into basketball and to think about coaching,” Kamiyama said. “I wouldn’t have been as successful (as a coach) if I didn’t (go through) some of the things I went through as a player for her. I feel inspired to try and move up eventually and coach college.”
Many Asian-American players and coaches continue to break into mainstream sports. Most recently, Jeremy Lin became the first American-born player of Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA. In 2011, Norm Chow became the first Asian-American head coach of a major college football program at the University of Hawai’i.
When Jue was honored in 2009 by the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California for being the only Chinese-American head basketball coach in the NCAA, she realized how far she had come.
Her parents, who passed down the work ethic that Jue now teaches her players, were in the crowd, beaming.
“I’m thankful they took that chance and came (to America),” she said. “I could be sitting on a water oxen, illiterate as heck. But because they sacrificed for me, I feel very thankful.
“You can’t ever forget where you come from.”