Henry Woo Jr. was introduced to overseas player (and now NBA player) Khem Birch in 2017. Mr. Woo had never thought of being an NBA trainer, but when he was presented with the opportunity, he decided to go for it.

Mr. Woo and Mr. Birch met through Mr. Woo’s good friend Erick Green. Mr. Green and Mr. Birch had played on the Olympiacos team in Greece. Mr. Woo traveled to Greece in 2017 and spent time with Mr. Green and Mr. Birch everyday. A few months later, Mr. Birch signed in the NBA with the Orlando Magic. Mr. Woo kept in touch with him and sent him film once in a while about what he (Mr. Birch) could do better to improve his game. Mr. Woo said he never thought Mr. Birch would take those seriously.

Photo courtesy of Henry Woo Jr.

After the NBA season, Mr. Birch called Mr. Woo and said, “What do you think of basketball training?” Mr. Woo had been training players at the McGaw Y, but making the jump from the Y to the NBA was huge. Mr. Woo knew that trainers are responsible for their player’s development, so he was not sure that he was the right guy to be training an NBA player. Mr. Birch convinced him and said, “Try it out. If it doesn’t work out, everything is going to be OK, and we’ll still be cool.”

Mr. Woo agreed to train Mr. Birch, and it has been a successful partnership. Mr. Birch has improved his game mightily. He has become a much better shooter, which has allowed him to help his team in many more ways. Mr. Woo has begun to train a few more NBA players, including Charlotte Hornets guard Grant Riller and Orlando Magic small forward James Ennis III. 

Mr. Woo was introduced to basketball at the age of 5. He played at the McGaw Y throughout his childhood, and he began coaching there when he was in seventh grade. He taught first- and second-graders how to dribble and shoot on eight-foot rims. He coached at the Y until he was 21.

He attended Loyola Academy for his first year of high school and Evanston Township High School his next three years. He graduated from ETHS in 2015 and played basketball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. He played college basketball at Division III Concordia University Chicago. 

The job of training NBA players is “surreal,” Mr. Woo says, because just a few years ago he was working at the YMCA with younger kids. He said, “Even like these interviews and stuff like this is a dream come true. I was really the guy that was at the YMCA, and kids, like you, would come to the Y and see me working at the Y. I was the most regular guy.”

Mr. Woo’s advice to young players who want to improve their game is to always work their hardest and not to let adversity stop them. He could have given up many times in his life, but his perseverance allowed him to play in college and train NBA players.

Mr. Woo said,  “I got cut my junior year in high school. That’s a life lesson that I won’t ever forget. Nothing is ever guaranteed in life. As much as that hurt me at the time, now I’m like ‘Wow, I went from getting cut in high school to playing in college.’”

He always worked his hardest to give himself the best opportunity to succeed at whatever he was passionate about. That hard work has led him to become a 24-year-old NBA trainer.