By Justin Braden
Durham, NC –
Many point guards spend their time watching game film, and Stefan Soh watches plenty of film also, but it is videos of chess that have improved his game the most, increasing his ability to read defenses and changing his perspective of the game.
“This past summer, I was struggling reading the pick and roll and zone defenses, and I thought to get into chess.”
Watching film on Soh, it is evident early on that there is something different about the way he approaches the game, and the psychology of his attack is deeply rooted in chess, with the seeds he planted in the board game growing into the method of his madness on the hardwood.
“I began playing chess and it drastically changed the way I read the defense and helped me see players not as actual players, like someone that is pressuring up on me, but as the actions they can do.”
Soh, a 6-foot-tall point guard out of North Carolina Good Better Best Academy, has the skill to play all the pieces on the chess board, and in his highlights, it is clear the pieces he plays most.
As a pawn, he sacrifices himself and drives into the top of the key of a 3-2 zone just enough to bring the low post out and hit a cutting guard for a score. Playing as the knight, in isolation, he fakes a defender left or right and before they realize it is too late, he is laying a shot in. When he moves the rook, he can slip around a pick and move into the offensive opening his teammates create for him. But as the king is where he is the most dangerous, as he can drive into a defender, create space, and pull up a fadeaway with hands in his face.
The evolution of this grandmaster’s game has not been formed easily. He has lost friends along his journey, and he has overcome injuries, but through a fire of desire to achieve his dreams, and with a motivational mother as the queen in his corner, he has crafted talents that are inherent in a natural mentor.
“I’m the total leader, and I really stress for my teammates to give me and the rest of us accountability. Everyone needs to hold each other accountable, but also be accountable on our own. We need to communicate well. In the game, we might get frustrated, but your teammates are the only ones on your team, so we need to talk respectfully.”
Stefan knew that he had something special early on, and no doubt his parents realized that also, but his family never pushed him into sports and they chose to let his talent grow naturally.
“There was no pressure from my parents to play sports at all. I really got into (basketball) around 5th grade, and the next year I got recruited to a private school.”
His talents continued to develop throughout middle school, but in high school, inconsistent coaching and behavior from the courtside leaders in his life challenged him with adversity but never jaded his view toward the game.
“Two seasons ago, I had a coach, and in the middle of the season, he got arrested for aggravated assault. He's in jail for a decade now. Then, going into last season one of my teammates was murdered.”
Experience with deficient leadership often creates the greatest leaders, but Soh’s experiences in high school helped to define what he wanted out of a college coaching staff and raise the expectations of his teammates around him.
“I want a staff that is invested in my development as a man and as a player and a staff that can really envision me playing in their system and developing in their system.”
On the court and in life, opponents will try to get in the head of Soh, and this interview gives them a glimpse into his mind, but the world will never truly understand the clear vision this young man has of his future beyond basketball, but he spells it out for them clearly, and inspirationally.
“The pairing of an economics or accounting degree, with psychology as a degree, would help me understand the social side of money. I want to use the platform a college degree would give me to help give back to my community, to help teach economics, how to save money, how to create wealth, how to manage wealth, how to pass it on to the next generation, and to people who are in a position like me, like a young African American boy or girl who wants to start that for a family.”
Soh’s reciprocation of knowledge and leadership to his community would begin with a scholarship – a door of opportunity for young men and women who find themselves in positions as he has in life, and for a college that truly believes in changing the world, they need to look no further than Stefan if they want to build a door for change in this world.
“(A scholarship) would mean everything. I’m not going to be one of those people that wastes a college degree away. It’s going to fuel my basketball career.”
Stefan Soh is the catalyst of change that the world has been calling out for, but until that opportunity ascends, the grandmaster of the game will be crafting his strategy on the court, and somewhere next year, he is going to be the most dangerous mind on the hardwood.
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