WolfPack basketball’s Jen Ju makes a difference, and not just on the court
Adam Williams, Sports Editor Ω
It bothered her that her parents weren’t there.
Jen Ju, point guard of the WolfPack women’s basketball team, was playing in her final game at the Tournament Capital Centre, wrapping up a five-year university basketball career, but at the forefront of her mind was the fact her parents hadn’t come to watch.
To be fair, Ju hadn’t expected them to. It’s a long drive from Vancouver and the game was on a Friday so they would have had to work. But it was also because they’d never seen basketball as a significant part of her life, just a game she liked to play. That part made it difficult.
“Basketball is something that I think of as one of my life’s greatest accomplishments – being able to play university ball – but at that moment I didn’t feel proud at all,” Ju said. “I didn’t feel like it was an accomplishment, I didn’t feel like I wanted to feel proud of playing basketball, because my parents weren’t. So it was quite a saddening moment for me.”
She chalks it up to cultural differences. Her parents emigrated from China more than 25 years ago and felt she should be focusing more on working and getting an education than sports. She calls herself the “black sheep” of her family and though it’s upsetting how her family feels about her athletic career, she’s never questioned her decision to play – her love for basketball transcends everything else.
“I’ve always done my own thing,” Ju said. “It didn’t really matter to me a whole lot because I knew I was going to do whatever I wanted to do. I was driven enough to accomplish whatever I needed to in order to play basketball.”
Ju says in recent years her parents, particularly her father, have grown to be more accepting of her decision to play basketball and have internalized her love for the game. It’s not a complete 180, but it’s a start.
Ju graduated from Britannia Secondary School in Vancouver and started her post-secondary career at Santa Barbara City College in California. Playing in the U.S. didn’t end up being a good fit, so she came back to Canada the next year. It was a good learning experience and she has a lot of great memories, but it didn’t align with her personal or professional goals and the way people interacted with each other wasn’t what she was used to – everything seemed a little individualistic.
It was also incredibly expensive.
In the end, things worked out great for the WolfPack and TRU. Ju is a model teammate and a great player. She’s also made it a priority to do some pretty powerful things in the communities she’s lived in.
She grew up in Vancouver’s lower Eastside, in Strathcona, a community near Hastings Street. It’s an area that’s often mentioned in the same breath as poverty, drugs, prostitution and Robert Pickton, but that’s just one side of it. Unfortunately it’s the side that tends to get the most attention.
“There’s just no balance [in the media coverage],” Ju said. “They fail to show the other side of it. There’s so much hope in the community. There’s community – like a true sense of community – and there’s real life down there. That, people just don’t realize.”
So while Ju’s focus right now is on basketball, she also has aspirations of working in some of the marginalized communities on Vancouver’s Eastside. She dreams of being able to bridge the gap between the east and the west of Vancouver, removing through education some of the animosity people have for each other.
She’s attacking the stereotypes academically. She’s currently waiting to hear if her proposal for TRU’s Undergraduate Research and Innovation Conference has been accepted. Her topic: The portrayal of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver in literature.
“I think it’s a huge issue in our society that people refuse to help, or see people as human beings due to their status, how they look, their level of income,” Ju said. “I really am passionate about things like that.”
But she doesn’t restrict her efforts to an academic approach. She’s also doing it with basketball, coaching inner-city youth. She works with a number of programs, most of which are aimed at those who wouldn’t be able to afford the financial commitment of youth programs at places like SFU or UBC. She works with other grads from Britannia and the Strathcona area, as well as the Real Basketball League. Jen Ju is paying it forward.
“We always have a philosophy as a women’s basketball program that we want to not forget where we came from and we want to be able to give back if we are able to do so,” said Scott Reeves, head coach of the women’s basketball team at TRU. “For her to be able to do that back in her hometown where she came from, I think would mean a lot to her because someone did that for her when she was young and that’s the type of person that she is.”
Ju feels she’s able to relate to youth through humour and their shared life experiences – it’s a skill set she’s quite proud of. For her, basketball is more than just a game – it’s a sport that teaches a lot of life-skills youth don’t learn inside a classroom.
As the basketball season ends, much of the media attention has been on the end of Diane Schuetze’s career and for good reason. Schuetze is top-25 in all-time CIS scoring and has been a significant cog in the WolfPack’s system throughout her tenure. Ju’s retirement, on the other hand, has gone relatively under the radar. For some, the lack of attention would be a source of friction, not so with Ju.
“Not at all, it’s well deserved,” Ju said of the attention paid to Schuetze. “She’s a hard-working person. She’s what makes me a good player.
“I couldn’t ask for the glory to be on another person, she really deserves it.”
Schuetze and Ju go a long way back – they played together on Team B.C. in under-16 basketball provincials before they met up at TRU. Schuetze says that playing her final few regular season games with Ju has been bittersweet, they’ll likely never play together again after the conclusion of this season.
It will be a difficult transition for both of them.
“Jen’s a very explosive player and very good on both offence and defence,” Schuetze said. “She’s developed into an incredible basketball player actually, so I love playing with her.
“She’s an awesome friend…She’s just a great person, she loves helping people.”
Now that her basketball career is coming to a close, Ju isn’t sure what the future holds for her – she calls it the golden question. She has no shortage of options. She’ll be on campus for at least one more semester and has talked about continuing to train with the WolfPack in order to stay in shape. She is still toying with the idea of heading over to Europe to play, she just can’t imagine giving up the game right now. Coach Reeves has even floated the idea of her coming back to the WolfPack as an assistant coach, an idea she’s interested in but still has reservations about.
If nothing else, she’s looked at the education program at SFU, it would allow her to give back to her community in Vancouver, working with kids in the school system, where she feels she’s able to have the greatest impact.
“I think she would be great at being in a camp role or a teacher role,” Reeves said. “Kids would really gravitate towards her.”
So when Ju left the court at the Tournament Capital Centre Feb. 1 for what was likely the final time of her career, flanked by fellow seniors Diane Schuetze and Tracy Kocs, the crowd stood up and clapped for more than just three successful basketball careers. They clapped for years of hard work, sacrifice, and efforts to make the world a better place. They clapped for Tracy, they clapped for Diane and they clapped for Jen.
No matter how she felt in the moment, Jen Ju has plenty to be proud of.