There are two types of people: those who play ping pong and those who play table tennis.
Luke Zheng (SPH’24) says there’s a term for these casual, inexperienced players: “basement heroes” – people who play ping pong for fun, but have never seen table tennis competition.
Can basement heroes be converted? “That’s what I’ve been trying to do for 10 years,” Zheng said.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying sports in a Warren Towers common room, though. Zheng says playing for fun can lead to something much bigger. “For a lot of great players, that’s exactly how they start. There’s a huge world in table tennis and the skill levels get really high.
This week, Zheng and other competitive players from BU Table Tennis Club will test their skills against the nation’s best when members travel to Texas to compete in the national tournament, April 8-10.
For a club that recruits new members through student activity fairs, online, and the Fitness and Recreation Center’s introductory table tennis classes offered to students, travel to the Nationals of the Texas is quite far from the tables around FitRec, both geographically and competitively.
“It’s great to go there,” said women’s team captain Yongjun Lu (ENG’23). “It’s our first time, so we’re very excited about it.”
Lu will play alongside Helen Gan (ENG’26), Yawei Huang (Wheelock’25), Yulin Li (CAS’23), Meha Prabhu (CAS/MED’26) and Yiqi Zou (LAW’22) in the team female play, and Zou will also participate in singles matches. Zheng represents BU as an individual in the men’s category and will support her teammates on the women’s side from afar.
“I’m optimistic for the women’s team,” he said. “I think they will be top 10 or top 12.”
As for his own performance, Zheng plans to be a badass for any opponent. “I’m not going to go down without a fight. Who knows? I’ve seen crazy things happen.
There are good reasons for his optimism. The women’s team took first place at the Lower New England Divisionals and had another strong performance at the North East Regionals to qualify for the national tournament. Zheng plays on behalf of the men’s team, which has also performed well in the region.
Getting to this point has been a solo journey for most players, culminating now in team competition. Lu says she has been a competitive gamer since childhood, when an interest turned into a passion. “It really interested me and I was sent to competitions when I was very young. That’s how I grew up,” she says.
Zheng’s love for sports developed somewhat by accident. His college cafeteria had a table with a net, where he played against friends and classmates daily. Eventually, he and his father, who was once a competitive gamer, were encouraged to play in a local tournament.
“He took that as a sign that maybe he should start playing again, so he coached me,” Zheng says. “After that tournament, we joined an official club, and I started taking lessons from there.”
The organized development that comes with joining a club can help players learn the nuances of the game. For example, players can tailor their paddle to their preferences: the type of wood can affect feel and the type of rubber can have an impact on control and rotation. Zheng says it’s an essential part of the game.
“The spin aspect sometimes isn’t really applicable for a lot of people who play recreationally. They don’t quite realize how much you can actually affect the spin, how much you can add yourself and to how much you can implement it in one point strategy.
As complex as the sport is below the surface, it remains one of the most accessible to play.
“Of course, we will try our best to get a high position,” Lu said, “but the goal is to enjoy the experience and see something different there.”
Supporters can donate to help BU Table Tennis Club travel to the Nationals in Texas here.
The National Collegiate Table Tennis Association (NCTTA) is hosting the tournament, and fans can find information from match results to live video, here. Follow the NCTTA on Twitter, @CollegeTT.