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Kaitlyn Chen: The offensive leader of a defensive team

Player on ladder cuts down net, holds up piece of net in celebration.
Kaitlyn Chen cutting down the net after winning Ivy Madness in 2023.
Photo courtesy of @PrincetonWBB/X.

You don’t have to go too far back in time to find the moment that senior guard and captain Kaitlyn Chen became the star of the Princeton women’s basketball program. On Mar. 30, 2022 — the Ivy Madness final — Princeton faced their rival Columbia at the Lavietes Pavilion in Cambridge, Mass., with an NCAA Tournament berth at stake. The then-rookie Chen dropped a career-high 30 points in the battle and was named the Ivy Madness Tournament’s most valuable player. Postgame, Chen earned effusive praise from Tigers’ great Abby Meyers ’22. 

“I just told Kaitlyn before we played Harvard, this is your platform, this is your spotlight,” Meyers told The Daily Princetonian at the time. “I’m just so glad that we got Kaitlyn Chen because she’s an absolute baller. She’s a rookie, but she plays like a veteran.”

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Fast forward two years, Kaitlyn Chen is still “an absolute baller” — but she’s no longer a rookie bursting onto the scene. Chen is an offensive leader of the 2023–24 edition of the Tigers — a squad more known for its aggressive defensive “Get Stops” mentality.

This year, Princeton women’s basketball has stayed on their A-game, amassing wins against tough ranked opponents, such as the No. 19 Oklahoma Sooners. Reaching a ranking-high of No. 25 in the AP poll, it’s safe to say that the Tigers have continued to build off their strong play from the last couple of seasons. 

Chen has continued shooting the ball as well as she did in her Ivy League player of the year season, averaging 15.5 points (fourth in the Ivy League), 3.4 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game off of 48.3 percent shooting. Her performances this season have garnered her national attention, with the guard being named a USBWA national player of the week, an accolade earned this season by NCAA standouts such as Iowa guard and national phenom Caitlin Clark. 

Born and raised in San Marino, Calif., northeast of Los Angeles, Chen fell in love with basketball almost immediately. 

“I had always watched [basketball] on TV when my dad would have the Lakers on TV,” Chen told the ‘Prince.’ “Soon, I started playing competitively in fourth or fifth grade.”

A four-sport athlete as a child, Chen’s talent in basketball was apparent early on. During high school, Chen was receiving Division I offers from colleges as soon as her sophomore year. She attended Flintridge Preparatory School, where she played with current first-year guard Ashley Chea.

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She currently holds the school record for career points, rebounds, and assists, as well as the single-game record for most points in a game. In her senior year of high school, Chen also became the first player in her high school’s history to win LA Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year, an award that named Chen the best high school women’s basketball player in the greater Los Angeles area. 

When she was a junior, former Princeton coach Courtney Banghart took notice and put on a full-court press to recruit Chen. Before Chen could commit, Banghart left to coach at the University of North Carolina.

“I was stuck for a little and confused and I didn’t really know where to go from there,” Chen said in an interview with The Trentonian in January. “Then, coach Berube started recruiting me again.”

Despite Banghart’s departure, Chen ultimately still decided to commit to Princeton. 

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“I think it was the people here that sold me,” Chen said. “The people who were recruiting me were Maggie [Connolly ’23], Julia [Cunningham ’23], and Grace [Stone ’23], and they ended up becoming some of my best friends here.”

Four years later, it’s safe to say that Chen made the right decision. Amongst all her other impressive accomplishments, Chen joined her friend and former teammate, Julia Cunningham, on Princeton’s 1000 points list this December. Chen became only the 28th player in Princeton’s history to accomplish this individual feat and currently sits 14th in all-time points scored in program history. 

Even with all of her on-court success, her transition to Princeton wasn’t so easy. Chen joined the Tigers during the pandemic, which made adjusting to the social environment a unique challenge. 

“It was definitely a little harder to meet people socially,” Chen explained to the ‘Prince.’ “But I think academically [we were] eased into [the workload] just because everything was online, and it felt a little less stressful than in-person classes.” 

On the court, Chen says that her biggest adjustment from high school to Princeton was perfecting Coach Berube’s suffocating defensive scheme. As a player that is known for her quick transition offense and explosive ball-handling skills, Princeton’s system demanded Chen to contribute on the defensive end as well.  

“I hadn’t really played on a team or for a coach that cared that much about defense,” Chen said of her time in high school.

“We [at Princeton] pride ourselves on our defense,” Chen continued. “So, it takes a lot of time and effort and focus during practices.” 

As a result, Chen is playing the best defense of her collegiate career, averaging 1.2 steals per game and fitting seamlessly into the well-oiled Princeton defensive machine. 

In her final year at Princeton, Chen is only focused on two things: her senior thesis and winning the Ivy League. As a Medical Anthropology major, Chen is researching how socioeconomic status affects access to sports growing up.

Once the academic and athletic year comes to a close, Chen is unsure of what the future holds for her. Entering the transfer portal back in January, she’s certainly looking forward to using her fifth year of eligibility to play basketball elsewhere. Some analysts speculate that Chen is getting interest from some of the top programs in women's basketball, including the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Connecticut (UConn), and Stanford University. 

“I am going to miss being able to live so close to my friends and [being able to] see them whenever I want,” Chen remarked to the ‘Prince.’ 

But before she graduates, Chen has unfinished business on the court, as her and the Tigers will look to accomplish something no other Princeton women’s basketball team has ever done — reach the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

Brian Mhando is a senior Sports writer for the ‘Prince.’

Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.

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