In his three seasons with Richmond's basketball team, senior Zach Chu has logged hundreds of practices, thousands of weight room reps, tens of thousands of air miles, and too-many-to-count bumps, bruises, and aches. All for 10 career game minutes of playing time.*
But if that’s the way Chu looked at his career — if that’s the way you look at his career — you’d both be missing the point. Chu doesn’t.
“I’ve always been told that surrounding myself with the best coaches and teachers possible would challenge me to be the best that I can be,” said Chu, the son of a basketball coach dad and an elementary school teacher mom. “I’ve been extremely fortunate to be surrounded by great coaches and mentors who have been a tremendous positive influence on me.”
Though he could’ve logged a starter’s minutes by choosing a Division III or lower-level Division I school, he walked on to the Spiders three years ago knowing what he signed up for. Chu, a business major, is contemplating following in his father’s coaching footsteps.
“The A-10 has exposed me to many different styles of play and successful approaches to the game,” said Chu, a two-year basketball starter and winner of three state tennis titles at Highland Park High School in Dallas. “The opportunity to be a part of this program has been incredible.”
If you don’t see Chu on the floor much during Spider games, that doesn’t mean you don’t see his contributions. His impact is evident every time his team frustrates an opponent’s offense or slices up its defense because of his integral role on the Spider scout team, players who learn the tendencies of each opponent and role play them in the practices leading up to each game.
“He’s almost like a player-coach of the scout team,” Chris Mooney, head coach, said after practice in the Robins Center. “Because he’s a senior and has such as good understanding of the game, we want him to be a little bit of a coach on the floor. As a guard, he’s on the court calling the plays. He’s making the decisions.”
The 40 minutes each game that fans see are a small fraction of any student-athlete’s experience, whether a walk-on, a star, or someone who falls in between. When talking about the role of a player like Chu, Mooney makes it clear that the Spiders are one unified team: “We don’t break everyone down into ‘This guy’s a walk-on. This guy’s a starter. This guy’s a sub.’ We expect all of our guys to be good basketball players. That includes all that goes into that: the weightlifting, all the workouts, the practices.”
“It means a lot to me that they treat the walk-ons how they treat a scholarship player,” Chu said. “I like it both ways. I get the same rewards as the players, but also if something is wrong or we’re not playing well, I’m going to have the same consequences as everybody else. I think that’s the way it should be, and it makes my role on the team pretty special. Even though I’m not playing on the floor, I can be a leader on our team, especially to the younger guys and the scout team.”
For a player seriously considering a career as a coach, Richmond is a valuable place to be. Through practices and games, Chu is exposed to diverse styles of play, philosophies, and personalities throughout the college basketball landscape. Through a summer internship with Nike, he traveled to China and Spain helping run grassroots youth camps and working alongside NBA players and coaches.
As for not playing more minutes during Spiders’ games, he’s fine with that. “Pretty quickly, you learn what it means to be a part of a team,” he said. “I know we’re, most likely, not going to be better if I’m on the floor, so I want to do everything I can to help us be successful.”
That’s not to say that he doesn’t play at all. Chu’s career has moments fit for a highlight reel. Against UNCW in 2012, he came off the bench for the final four minutes, during which he took three three-point shots and sank two of them. His teammates on the bench were on their feet for him, as loud as any fans in the Robins Center.
“The basketball program has pushed me to levels physically and mentally that I never thought I could reach before,” Chu said. “I have gone through so much with my teammates since the day I got here. We all have grown not only as players, but as people and friends. It’s what makes us family. It’s been a life-changing experience for me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
*Between the writing and posting of this article, Chu came in to play an additional minute in the Spiders' 80-56 win over High Point Nov. 22.