“So that’s why ball is life”: How a team manager at the University of Texas at Austin went from the sidelines to the court and why she continues her career in the sport.

The interview with Helen Tau was conducted over email and has been lightly edited for clarity.

HELEN TAU’S STORY:

Honestly, I can’t remember a time when basketball was not a part of my life. I knew that I was not going to play in college, but I wanted to be around it. I was attending The University of Texas at Austin and did not believe that I could play at that level. However, that did not stop me from trying out as a walk-on freshman year as well as asking to be a team manager three times. Finally, the third time was a charm, junior year with a new coaching staff, I was able to become a manager.

All of junior year, I was a volunteer manager since I was working another job on campus and did not believe that I could be fully committed to both. Because I already gave my word to being a resident assistant, I knew that basketball would have to come second this year. However, I ended up being there as much as the other paid managers if not more. I was excited to finally be part of the program and be around basketball again that I wanted to be there as much as possible.   

Walking onto the Texas basketball team was incredible; it was actually surreal because it seemed like it didn’t actually happen but I remember every single detail and feeling. So here comes senior year, I decided not to return as a resident assistant and become a paid manager. I was ready to be all in. One practice, I had to jump into a drill and play against the girls since there was not enough practice guys. By some miracle, I get a couple of rebounds or steals or points (this is the only part that is a little hazy, but all I know is that I wasn’t playing terribly). I was out there having fun and just playing the game.

Then, it all happened suddenly in the middle of practice. In a typical Coach Aston (head coach) moment, she stops the play, goes from “critiquing” the players to asking me in front of everyone if I wanted to play. I thought she was just talking about that practice. I was thinking in my head, “I’m trying Coach. I’m sorry I’m not challenging the girls enough.” So I tentatively nodded my head yes, and she hits me with the “Okay. Suit up tomorrow.” WHAT?!?!

I didn’t really have time to process it at that moment because she started practice again. So basically, I had the rest of practice to decipher what just happened and I still didn’t know. When practice ended, I went up to one of the assistant coaches, Coach Washington, aka G Dubbs, and asked him if Coach Aston was joking. He replies, “When does Coach ever joke around?” True.

So I go up to Coach Aston, hella nervous, and ask, “Hey Coach, were you being serious when you said that?” She responds with, “Yeah, you know, go do whatever you got to do to be a walk-on.” And that was it; she walked off. Super nonchalant, like it was not a dream come true or one of the biggest moments of my life. The next day, I got a locker, practice jersey, and found myself warming on the baseline getting ready for practice.

And let me just say, that practice HAD to be the HARDEST one of the season. I’m pretty sure my lungs collapsed about 5 times, running all those suicides. However, it was also one the most thrilling things to be out there as a Division 1 student-athlete for Texas. Like I get to rep the burnt orange and play on the main stage…that’s insane!! The rest is history; that season, I got to go to the Virgin Islands, start the game on Senior Night, and play in the 2nd round of NCAA tournament.

This moment was big for me because it convinced me that if you work hard, like hard-hard, not that fake hard, when it’s only convenient for you, that anything is possible. My path was unorthodox, but I got to play basketball in college, nonetheless. If I learned that if you put yourself in a position to succeed, when the opportunity arises, you’ll be ready to take it. This mindset motivated me to move to LA after graduation with dreams of being a talent manager – think Scooter Braun. I did not have a job lined up; I knew no one in Hollywood, and yet, I believed in myself that I can make it work. I felt that if I worked hard and not be afraid of the challenge, then I had everything to gain. And now, that’s one of my guiding principles in life.

HELEN TAU’S LOVE OF THE GAME:

I think I initially fell in love with the game because it was fast pace, lots of scoring, and both my brother and dad played for fun. Plus, it didn’t hurt that I didn’t suck at it. Some of my favorite basketball memories came from hanging out at the rec center all day during the summer time. You make friends with the people on the court, and it became a regular thing.

And as I grew older, basketball started to mean more to me. In high school, I began to really learn the game and that just made me love basketball more, so much that I wanted to be a part of it at the college level in any capacity. The gym became my second home; I found a sense of peace there. Sometimes, being alone in the gym, putting up shots or even just feeling the leather ball in my hands, was the most calming feeling. I could have a really bad day, but being in the gym, just doing my thing, the weight on my shoulders would be lifted during those hours. It was my way of escaping.

And now, I have added another meaning to basketball. It is a way for me to impact young people and inspire our future leaders. I love working with college kids; they have so much potential and can make a difference in the world. That possibility is exciting, and I want to help make it happen. Basketball gives me the opportunity to do so and it’s important to me that I maximize this chance. I still love the game of basketball, the thrill of the challenge and winning, but being a positive influence and supporter for the kids and helping them be successful and achieve their dreams means more to me than just playing the game. So that’s why ball is life.

Women's Basketball vs UMES
Photo Credit: Georgetown Athletics Communications, Women’s Basketball vs UMES

HELEN TAU’S CAREER PATH:

Currently, I am the Video Coordinator for the Georgetown Women’s Basketball team. My responsibilities include watching and breaking down practice/game film, assisting with the scouting report, and creating content for social media. There’s other things that I do but those are the main ones.

I’m not quite sure what my ideal career path is. All I know for sure is that my next goal is to become an assistant coach and a head coach after that. But I also have dreams of being the next Jay-Z, not the rapper but the business and entertainment media mogul. Right now, I’m focusing on the present, doing my best, leaving my mark, and just seeing where it takes me. I have what I want in the back of my mind, but not trying to force anything either.  

HELEN TAU’S INSPIRATION:

My parents inspire the most; they are immigrants and they worked their freaking butts off (Author’s Note: trying to keep it PG, but please read it with stronger language for full emphasis) to make a decent living for themselves and then, for me and my brother. So when I think about them, the challenges they faced, and resilience they had, it motivates and inspires me to do better. I wouldn’t be who I am if they weren’t the rocks in my life, and I realize that I am extremely lucky to have them because unfortunately, not everyone does. I try to make the most of every opportunity because that’s how my parents did it and how they raised me. They are the coolest!

Another thing that inspires me are nice and empathetic people. I am envious of those people because I wish I was like them. I’m not mean, but I would not consider myself nice. I might be a smidge above a decent human being, and I am trying to be better but it’s hard. So when I see people like Malala, The Obamas, founders of March for our Lives, and Colin Kaepernick, I am in complete awe of them; these people are A1s. (Author’s Note – there are a lot of people that I am missing out on.) They care about other people and their actions convey it. Their courage, compassion, and leadership are what I aspire to be. I hope one day it can be at their magnitude, but, just the everyday little things is what I want to focus on first.