Similar to her teammates, Jessie Dai laces up her kicks to improve daily. However, when she steps on the court, she faces challenges unfamiliar to her teammates.
“My teammates sometimes [tell] me something, and I [don’t] understand,” Dai said.
Unlike her teammates, Dai’s hoops journey started halfway across the globe.
Dai was born in DaQing, China to two former basketball players. Following in her parents’ footsteps, she picked up the sport at a young age.
As an only child, basketball occupied much of Dai’s free time. After a few years of playing, she noticed that she felt like her best self when on the court.
“When I grew up, I felt that [was] what I wanted[ed],” Dai said.
Women’s basketball is not popular in China. Dai understood that the United States was the place to be if she wanted to become a better hooper. Therefore, she moved to the U.S. during high school to seek greater basketball opportunities.
“I feel [that] American basketball [is] more professional and more competitive,” Dai said. “I would learn academic[s] and basketball both together. [It] would make me more coachable.”
Dai attended Bella Vista College Preparatory School in Scottsdale, Arizona.
As one would expect, adjusting from China to the United States would take time. Dai’s little knowledge of English made the initial adjustment difficult.
“The culture, the food, [and] the language, I would say, was hard for me,” Dai said.
The first few practices were especially rough for Dai. Communication is critical on the hardwood, so not understanding your teammates prevents high-level performance.
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Fortunately, Dai’s teammates helped overcome the language barrier by embracing her early on.
“They help[ed] me a lot, to be honest, even off the court,” Dai said. “I feel that it [was] helpful for me. I like[d] it so much.”
The difference in the style of play of American and Chinese basketball was noticeable for Dai.
“When I came here, I understood nothing,” Dai said. “I [didn’t] know how they wanted to play. Defense is different even though it’s basketball.”
However, Dai knew basketball in the U.S. was for her after participating in the 2018 Chinese under-17 games.
She played well, averaging 12.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, and two steals per contest, but she didn't like how practices in China would drag on. She learned a lot but felt she wasted much time on the court that could have been used to improve.
“[The] U.S. is more professional. In two hours, they will get everything right,” Dai said.
After high school, Dai took her talents to the next level at Odessa College, a junior college in Odessa, Texas.
Despite being from another country that played a contrasting style of ball, head coach Kris Baumann still worked with Dai so she could be the best version of herself on the court.
“I’m international,” Dai explained. “Also, I’m Asian. I have to say that they have discrimination in [the] U.S., but my coach trust[ed] me even though at the beginning I [was] not adapted to the game. He still said, ‘you can get it.’”
Coach Baumann’s trust paid off as Dai had a successful first year, averaging 11.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, and shooting 34 percent from behind the arc. Her performances earned her a Western Junior College Athletic Conference Honorable Mention honor.
Dai’s on-the-court potential caught the eyes of Miami University’s coaching staff. She could not see herself playing in anything but a Redhawk jersey after she visited the campus.
“When I just came here,” Dai said. “I saw the school. It’s really beautiful.”
Practices still come with language issues; however, the coaching staff, led by DeUnna Hendrix, are right there to help Dai get to where she needs to be on the court.
“I feel like I’m improving every day,” Dai said. “My teammates and my coaches help me through everything.”
Miami is home to hundreds of international students like Dai. The warm welcome from her teammates has her confident that others that struggle finding their way in a new country have the resources to overcome their challenges.
“The professors will help you,” Dai said. “Your friends will help you. That’s how you will improve. You will get there. You will get better everyday.”
You can catch Dai and the RedHawks at home against Western Michigan on February 8th at 7 P.M.