In a game-changing move over the summer, sophomore Jake Hsu reshaped the course of his athletic journey. His choice to switch sports constituted a career-defining decision, as he traded his wide receiver gloves for a pair of basketball sneakers.
From catching the threaded needle on the gridiron to now passing the rock on the hardwood, he said farewell to his teammates on the football field, having sight on a new role: being a playmaking guard for Penn men's basketball.
Sports came easily to Hsu, as his father Victor excelled as a two-sport athlete for the Quakers on the football and men's lacrosse teams between 1991 and 1995. Hsu dedicated himself to extensive training to hone his basketball skills at Germantown Academy. Football, however, was in his blood, so the game came naturally to him.
In his freshman year donning the Red and Blue, Hsu did not see any game action for Penn football. However, this was in no way a decisive factor that led him to part ways with the program. While he expresses gratitude for the brotherhood of the football team, he reflects on how the game never ignited his passion.
Unlike football, his enthusiasm for basketball coursed through his veins. Hsu emphasized that the game of basketball was the first sport he truly loved.
“I’m a competitive person in everything I do and my favorite form of competition was definitely basketball,” Hsu said. “In football, if you’re playing quarterback, you’re touching the ball every play. As a receiver, if you drop the ball, you may not get another pass [until] the next quarter or [at all] during the game. In basketball if you make a mistake, you have a chance to redeem yourself the very next play which I love.”
Putting time, sweat, and effort into basketball in high school had become an integral part of Hsu's identity. He lettered four times in the sport and was twice named captain of his squad. During his stint with the AAU New York Renaissance from 2019-21, Hsu played a significant role helping his team reach the Peach Jam Final Four.
Losing this connection in college was difficult, especially as he watched his current basketball teammates “walking around or coming to the game,” which made him yearn to return to the court.
This past summer, associate men's basketball coach Nat Graham told Hsu that there was a possible opportunity for him to join the team as a walk-on. With this spark rekindling his love for the game, Hsu trained and played pick-up basketball at a high level with the team, leading to him earning a spot on the 2023-24 roster.
"Jake treats every day that he’s on the basketball court like it’s a gift, like he’s been given an opportunity and he’s going to make the most of it. That’s what has impressed me the most." Graham said. "He’s a young man who loves being a part of a team, whether it was football last year or basketball this year, and that love is reciprocated by his teammates. He’s not the biggest or the strongest guy out there, but he competes and maximizes his chances. You can tell it’s leaving an impression on the other guys.”
Even after his departure from the football program, Hsu expressed how fortunate he is to still have a sense of brotherhood with players from the team. Yet, during his time away, he highlights the close friendships made with non-athletes through clubs on campus.
“Jake has been a great addition to the team," coach Steve Donahue said. "His attitude, especially, has been infectious and it hasn’t taken long for him to ingratiate himself into the team. He understands team dynamics, being a multi-sport athlete, and that has really shown day in and day out at practice. The way the guys have reacted to him getting into our first two games has been rewarding, it shows the guys recognize how hard he’s working and they respect and appreciate it.”
Reflecting on his journey — from a background where basketball defined him, to taking a leap of faith to leave the football team and explore new connections — Hsu is overjoyed with how everything has played out. Now, he finds that his identity has expanded beyond just sports to one balanced by academics, relationships, and athletics.