Sandra Lin Went All In At Georgia Highlands
“The reason why I wanted to come here was that I want to be the first example for other females in Taiwan who want to play here that they don’t need to be a champion or selected to the national team to play basketball at a higher level in America.” -Sandra Lin
Georgia Highlands College star Sandra Lin is not your typical, modern-day, high-scoring point guard. For one reason, she did not take a typical path to get here. She traveled more than 8,000 miles from her hometown of Hsinchu, Taiwan, to solidify herself as one of the best passers in all of women’s JUCO.
The 5’3" guard averages more than 6.5 assists per game and is breaking the mold of what it takes to be successful at the college level in America. She did not come to the States as a star. However, by taking a chance on herself, she has become one.
Life In Taiwan
Lin gambled by leaving her parents and her younger brother behind in Taiwan. He still begs her to send him some basketball sneakers, although she replies: “Nope.”
Sandra was no stranger to being on her own. As a teenager, she moved an hour and a half away to attend Taipei First Girls High School, where she lived for seven years. This transition made the move to America easier, as she had known what it is like to be away from home. Sandra explained how important basketball was even then.
“It is the number 1 high school in Taiwan, and I got in because I could play basketball. We would have to practice and then 2 or 3 hours of studying to catch up every day. And it is a lot more fast-paced than over here, but the students at that high school still helped us a lot when we didn’t understand something. It was the main thing that helped me be able to survive how fast-paced it was.”
Sandra's high school coach, Coach Lo, had elevated expectations for her players on the court and in the classroom. The extra help from classmates let Sandra keep her grades up although she admits she was not the smartest in her class academically. Then again, she had the ability and smarts to shine on the court.
She developed her basketball IQ by playing continuously since elementary school. She played with the boys because there was not a girls' team until her final year. She was not the best scorer, so she decided to focus on perfecting her passing game which would serve her all the way through college. “Basketball always came natural,” she says. But it was not until her freshman year of high school that she would consider playing basketball in America. Her English teacher suggested there might be an opportunity to play at a higher level overseas.
Making the Decision
Her family supported the bold move.
“If that is the decision you want to make then you should try,” Sandra’s mom told her.
Today her parents show their support by getting up as early 5 a.m. in Taiwan to watch their daughter play in America. Her father often asks a seemingly unexpected question: “Why is your shooting percentage so low?” which makes Sandra laugh. She appreciates the feedback and knows it comes from a place of love. “It is how my family communicates with each other.”
Like her parents, Sandra would have the support of Coach Lo who knew that given who she was as a player and person, she would be able to succeed anywhere.
“She is aways thinking about how to make herself better on the court or finding a way to communicate with her teammates,” Coach Lo says. “Even thinking about these things off the court where she can be a serious and self-demanding person.”
As high school ended, she had a scholarship to play at a college in Taiwan. But she would turn it down to take one of the biggest risks of her life to play in America.
Taking the Risk
Sandra first reached out to coaches in the NCAA via email, but she did not get any replies. To raise her profile, she used her gap year after she graduated to coach her former high school team and sign up for the Blue Star basketball camp in Singapore. At the camp, she met coach Renee Johnson. Renee connected Sandra with multiple schools around America and pushed to get her offers.
Still, “Georgia Highlands was the only school to give me a full scholarship and showed the most interest in me because other schools didn’t really reach out to me, just coach Renee,” Sandra explained. Without even looking at the campus, she took the offer from Georgia Highlands, then hopped on a long, expensive flight.
“I flew into California and the flight got delayed so I missed my second flight to Atlanta and had to wait another 6 hours to get on another flight.” The delay exposed Sandra to a bit of her first culture shock. Many people greeted her with “hellos,” something rare in Taiwan.
“If you say high to random people in Taiwan, they look at you like, do I know you? Over here they do it all the time, but I learned to just get used to it.” Sandra said.
Change in Pace
Living in small town Rome, Georgia was a substantial change from the hustle and bustle of Taipei, Taiwan. Although it is different, she has enjoyed her last three years in America. “The pace is a lot faster (in Taiwan) but when I am here, I can relax because the pace is a lot slower, and it is like a break when I am here, and I get to relax a little bit more.”
Sandra may miss the scrumptious fried rice from Taiwan that does not taste the same here. But she is filling the culinary gap by enjoying some Zaxby’s with her teammates. American fast food, she says, is better than back in Taiwan. Since she lives with her team in a big house, it has been easy to bond. Sandra enjoys hanging out in the living room with her team and watching anime with her roommate during their downtime.
Making connections with her teammates on the court also came naturally due to her being a great leader and understanding the basic words in basketball. She prefers more one-on-one conversations with players when it comes to her motivating the team, which is a lot more intimate and translates well with other players.
Sandra experienced another culture shock, and a bit of a hairy one, on the court. Midway through a game she witnessed the hair of one of her teammate's fall out of her head and onto the floor. Aghast, Sandra did not know what to do. Nor did she know why her other teammates burst out laughing. At that point Sandra learned all about weaves.
At Georgia Highlands, head coach Brandan Harrell lets the players choose how to run the offense. “He lets me make my own decisions on the court,” she notes, which is empowering. After games, though, Harrell peppers Sandra with questions, and then playfully criticizes her for only answering yes or no. “Are you going to just say yes or no for the next three years?” he asked. The constant conversations between them have helped Sandra get beyond that and learn full sentences in English.
Georgia Highlands ran all the way to the national championship game before suffering a tough loss against Tyler Junior College. Sandra contributed 11 assists and 7 steals to lead both teams in those categories. Although the season is over, Sandra sees a bright future. She has received offers to continue playing for NAIA, D2, and D1 schools. Sandra finds that the more offers she gets the harder it is to make this big decision. To help make her decision she is looking at only colleges that have a major in exercise science - and teams for which she can start.
After college Sandra plans to go back to Taiwan and coach. She would also like to work in the field of exercise science to enhance her knowledge and understanding of how to train her players. She always says, “A lot of people helped me to come here so I want to be the person to help other to help other achieve their dreams.”
She seeks to inspire the younger generation of Taiwanese girls who want to play basketball. Her best advice to them: “Don’t compare yourself to others, but find out what you are good at and find value in the things you do well even if it is not scoring. They need to figure out what they are good at and do not give up on it.”
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