Wake Forest basketball player Steven Xu ’20 found the support he needed at CA
Xiaolong “Steven” Xu ’20 arrived at Concord Academy from Beijing with a dream: He wanted to play NCAA Division I basketball. His advisor, Director of Athletics Sue Johnson P’20, who had been both a DI player and coach herself, was encouraging, Xu recalls, but she also urged him to maintain a sense of balance, to prioritize academics, extracurriculars, friends, and family.
Xu made CA’s varsity team as a 9th grader. Terrell Hollins, then the assistant coach, remembers well Xu’s ambition and determination. “He was hardworking and uniquely driven,” he says. “His willingness to learn, to accept criticism, and to be coachable were his most important attributes.”
Xu says he needed a lot of coaching that first season and recalls feeling frustrated about his lack of playing time. “If I were to go back now, I’d try to talk with the coaches and learn what I could do better,” he says. “But in retrospect, it was very helpful. On any team, you have some dissatisfaction with your role or how much playing time you’re given. It was something I needed to learn.”
By his junior year, Xu was a starter and key player in the program. Hollins had left to be a head coach at another school, but when the same role opened up at CA in Xu’s senior year, Xu was excited to see him return. Hollins was impressed with how Xu, a team co-captain, had matured as a player. “His leadership rubbed off on the younger guys,” he says, “and his influence is still being felt.”
Unfortunately, that year Xu sustained a serious ankle injury—not on the court, but in routine horseplay with his housemates. Forced to start his senior season late, he gave up his hope of being recruited by NCAA college coaches, but not the idea of playing at a DI school.
Xu was accepted at Wake Forest and resolved to try his luck as a walk-on. But when the fall 2020 semester was upended by the pandemic, Xu focused on friendships and academics rather than the basketball court.
His sophomore year, when life on campus was more normal, the basketball team had no openings for walk-ons. Instead, Xu played in a recreational league and in frequent pickup games. The following summer, the Wake Forest athletics department said he’d been recommended for a walk-on spot and asked to see some film of his past games. Xu provided footage of CA games and club play, and by the start of his junior year, he had won his spot on the Wake Forest team.
Johnson was delighted by the news. “Wake Forest is not only a DI program but it is also a member of the ACC, one of the country’s power conferences,” she says. “Steven is an extremely hard worker and a talented athlete who set his sights on earning a walk-on position, which is very difficult to do. Terrell and I are thrilled that he stuck it out and made his dream come true. Quite a feat!”
“What he has accomplished in making the team at an ACC Power Five school should give a lot of kids hope,” Hollins says. “Steven has shown that even if you’re not recruited, you can take a different path to becoming a college player.”
Xu acknowledges that making the Wake Forest roster is only the beginning. “I’m the new guy on the team, and I’m not the best player,” he says. “I won’t get a lot, if any, playing time. I could have made a different choice, gone to a Division III school where I’d probably be playing more, but it would be an entirely different experience. Even as a walk-on, I’ve accomplished a big step in my basketball journey.”
Xu says his CA years made him the player he now is, for which he credits Hollins in particular. “He’s a great coach, and he really understands how to intermingle basketball culture and CA culture,” Xu says. Johnson, too, helped him sustain his dreams. “If you don’t have that sort of insane belief in yourself that I had, it’s easy to cave in to opposition,” he says. “People might be telling you to consider going another route. But whatever your dream is, you need to believe in yourself while also doing the hard work it’s going to take to get there.”
— Nancy Shohet West ’84
MORE ALUM ATHLETE ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Congratulations to these recent CA graduates, who have gone on to succeed in college competition.
Sam Welsh ’18 set both Harvard and Ivy League records at the Ivy League Outdoor Heptagonal Championships, held in May 2022 for the first time since 2019. His throw of 62.26 meters earned him Most Outstanding Men’s Field Performer of the event.
After spending last season on a semipro men’s soccer team in Germany, Nate Drew ’19 celebrated his University of Chicago team’s NCAA championship Division III win in November.
Kaity Severin ’20 helped Wellesley College’s crew team win the NCAA Division III national championship in May. The fact that Severin battled back after wrist surgery had prevented her from even training last year made the victory especially sweet.