Best friends Tia Chen and Amanda Hua now teammates

SEVENTH ANNUAL TRIBUNE/STAR-NEWS ALL-STAR CLASSIC
Saturday, April 24, Damien High School
Girls game:
4 p.m.
Boys game: 6 p.m.

SERIES RECORD
Boys Star-News leads series, 5-1
Girls: Star-News leads series, 4-2

By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer

It started with an innocent self-invitation to a birthday party, but little did La Caada High School’s Tia Chen know that doing so would also mean making good friends with the birthday girl, Alhambra’s Amanda Hua.

They briefly met once, had mutual friends, but about the only thing they shared in common at the time was that they both played basketball. Chen said it only felt like she invited herself because of the way she found out about the party – not through a traditional birthday card or even word of mouth, but through a mass message sent on instant messenger.

Since then, Chen and Hua have become really good friends and now find themselves almost inseparable.

Little did they know that five years later they’d be playing on the same team in Saturday’s Tribune/ Star-News All-Star Basketball Classic at Damien High School.

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The Star-News All-Stars met in the seventh grade and grew up going to basketball clinics. At one time they played on the same club basketball team, SGV. They also play in an Asian league.

None of that, however, compared to the experience they shared playing for their respective schools.

Chen, a three-year letterman, proved to be one of the more prominent point guards in the area. She led La Caada to a 24-4 season and an undefeated run to win the Rio Hondo League title, averaging 13.7 points, 5.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 3.6 steals.

Chen never was one to back down from the challenge of a tall frontline. In fact, she thrived off it. Chen was tough driving to the basket and quickly got around double teams with speed and deft ball-handling skills.

But it wasn’t her success that highlighted her season; rather it was watching teammate Shannon Denney, also a Star-News All-Star, score a career-high 42 points to break the school’s single-game scoring record.

The Spartans’ season was cut short when they lost in the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA playoffs. That she gets to wear her uniform one more time means a lot to Chen.

“I’m excited to wear my jersey again,” she said.

“The little logo on my shorts somehow got faded and it’s now hot pink. I think it’s awesome that I get to wear my uniform like that.

“It’s going to be fun playing for a crowd again. Me and Amanda play in the offseason, but nothing compares to playing high school basketball.”

Hua averaged nine points and four assists for Alhambra, numbers that don’t exactly jump out, but without Hua there’s no knowing how much the Moors could have accomplished this season. Alhambra, for one, snapped Keppel’s illustrious 87-game Almont League winning streak with a 64-62 win in front of a standing- room-only crowd at Alhambra.

“It was exciting because it was one of our goals forever,” Hua said. “The adrenaline was incredible because everyone was at the game.

“When we beat them we told ourselves, `OK, we won and now they’re going to be mad and they’ll want revenge.”‘

Alhambra, already with the Almont League title in hand, traveled to Keppel and handed the Aztecs a 53-45 defeat in front of another standing- room-only crowd.

“At Keppel people were standing by the walls,” Hua recalled. “That game and that win was more exciting because we beat them on their home court.”

It was Hua who helped keep the Moors offense afloat, but it was her sportsmanship that Alhambra coach Therese Berner admired most.

“She’s my engine, and without her the team doesn’t run,” Berner said. “She has a great attitude and is so supportive of all her teammates.

“While she doesn’t put up huge numbers and gets overlooked a lot, she’s the one player I could not do without on the floor.”

With her success and the Spartans’ prowess last season, Chen practically became a household name, appearing countless times in these pages. She started playing basketball in the fifth grade, and for a long time coaches would tell her that she’d have no choice but to be a point guard.

“I was like 4-foot-8 for like six years,” said Chen, who will study communications at Cal Poly Pomona. “But I was an aggressive person. I guess that plays into how I play basketball.”

They have the same outgoing personality, but are different in their own ways, and they don’t exactly agree on everything.

“Which is good to have in a friend, rather than having someone who agrees with you all the time,” Chen said.

Hua, headed to Cal State L.A., agrees.

“We compliment each other,” she said.

And for one night, they’ll get to play on the same court for the same team.

miguel.melendez@sgvn.com

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