January 30, 2023
The growing confidence of Columbia’s Abbey Hsu
‘When … she turns on the mindset that nobody can guard her, she is fearless’
Junior guard Abbey Hsu is already Columbia’s all-time leader in career 3-pointers made, but she swears that she wasn’t always a knockdown shooter. When she started playing in a co-ed recreational league in first grade, she told The Next, “I remember just chucking the ball up and it would just hit the backboard … Shooting was not my thing.”
Several years of rec league games and training sessions with her older brother went by before, as a middle-schooler, she noticed that her shots were falling more often. By her sophomore year of high school in Parkland, Florida, she was starting to attract attention from college coaches, in part for her shooting ability.
Columbia head coach Megan Griffith was one of the coaches who noticed Hsu’s shooting. The first time Griffith watched Hsu play, Hsu was wide open in transition and launched a 3-pointer, defying conventional wisdom on shot selection. “I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’” Griffith told The Next. “I was like, ‘That’s the kind of swag I need.’”
But even Griffith wasn’t sure whether Hsu would be a merely good shooter or a great shooter when she arrived on campus in fall 2019. Griffith had seen Hsu play a lot as a high school sophomore, but Hsu tore her ACL as a junior and transferred from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas for her senior year. At St. Thomas Aquinas, Hsu played a complementary role alongside other Division I talent, averaging 14.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
Now, in Hsu’s third season at Columbia, the swagger that Griffith saw in that high school transition three is showing more and more. Hsu was a Second Team All-Ivy League honoree in each of her first two seasons, but this season, she has an unshakeable confidence in herself that has raised her game to another level. Though she still has another year-plus in a Columbia uniform, she has already separated herself from nearly everyone who came before her.
“She’s a generational player for Columbia,” Griffith said. “… She’s the kid that you’re gonna be telling a lot of stories about — the shots that she hit, the things that she did. But she’s totally rewritten the history books for scoring at Columbia, and … she’s done it with a lot of flair. And I think that’s what people will remember.”
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In the 25 seasons before Griffith took over at Columbia in 2016, the Lions had won just 28% of their games. But Griffith told Hsu during the recruiting process that she, along with the class ahead of her, was going to change the program. And when Hsu arrived for the 2019-20 season, she helped the Lions to a 17-10 record, a nine-win turnaround from 2018-19 and their first winning season in 10 years.
“What I knew I was gonna get [in Hsu] was the hardest-working kid in the gym,” Griffith said. “She’s just constantly moving all over the court. … Her work ethic just elevated our team immediately.”
Hsu became an immediate starter and scored in double figures in each of her first four games, shooting at least 50% from the field in three of them. She then scored below eight points in four of her next five games before finding her footing again in conference play. She scored in double figures in all but two Ivy League games, and she had a then-career-high 31 points on 11-for-15 shooting against Harvard on Feb. 15, 2020. For the season, nearly half of Hsu’s made field goals came from behind the arc, where she shot 41.1%.
Hsu’s play garnered a lot of attention: She was eventually named the All-Met Rookie of the Year, chosen from players from 21 Division I schools in the New York metropolitan area, and she amassed a devoted following known as the Hsu Crew (pronounced “Shoe Crew”). The Crew, led by Columbia football players and fellow Floridians Evan Loesel and Oren Milstein, celebrated every Hsu bucket by taking off their shoes and waving them in the air.
Despite her success and accolades, though, Hsu wasn’t consistently confident in her abilities on the court. She would sometimes dwell on poor performances too long, letting them impact the games that followed. Griffith told reporters before Hsu’s sophomore season that “the unwavering confidence piece is going to be really key to her growth.”
But first, Hsu had to get through a whole season without basketball, as the Ivy League canceled all sports in 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Hsu took a year off from school to preserve her athletic eligibility. “I feel like I lived three lifetimes within that COVID year,” she said. “It was such a long year.”
While Hsu worked restaurant jobs and explored her passions outside of basketball, including traveling and hiking, she also spent ample time in the gym. In summer 2021, she worked with a trainer on different and harder shots — a critical development for someone as heavily scouted as Hsu has been in college. “She gets the attention that nobody else gets in our league,” Griffith said in February 2022.
Hsu also worked to gain confidence with the ball in her hands, whether that meant driving for a pull-up jump shot or finding a teammate. That confidence showed early in her sophomore season, when she had 22 points in each of the first two games, and especially in a Dec. 2, 2021, game against Delaware. Hsu had 27 points, shooting 10-for-16 on 2-pointers to compensate for an uncharacteristic 2-for-8 showing from deep, and Columbia made a late comeback to win by six points.
“I felt very confident that game and … didn’t hesitate to have the ball in my hands,” Hsu said. “And, I mean, to be totally honest, I haven’t felt that every single game, even though my teammates, my coaches, they all have every bit of confidence in me to have the ball in my hands whenever. But [that was] one of the games where even I had the most confidence in myself to be like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to score this ball,’ or ‘I’m going to take that risky shot if I have to.’”
As a freshman, Hsu had feasted on catch-and-shoot jump shots. They made up nearly two-thirds of the jump shots she took, and she ranked in the 95th percentile nationally in points per play — a measure of efficiency — on those shots. As a sophomore, Hsu still hit plenty of those shots, but she increased the share of jump shots she took off the dribble from 32.3% to 40.4%, making her harder to scout and stop. Despite taking more 3-pointers off the dribble, she still made 37.5% of her 3-pointers overall and set the Ivy League single-season record with 108 3-pointers.
According to Griffith, Hsu also got significantly stronger between her freshman and sophomore seasons and was more physical on both ends of the court. Her turnover rate decreased, and she was incredibly durable, setting Columbia’s single-season record with more than 1,000 minutes played.
Griffith saw Hsu take another significant step forward late in the season, starting on March 4, 2022, at Cornell. In Hsu’s previous four games, she had taken just nine shots per game, and Griffith threatened to bench her if she didn’t shoot the ball 20 times. She didn’t quite get there against Cornell, but she put up 25 points on 18 shots, including 6-for-13 shooting from 3-point range, and she didn’t take fewer than 15 shots in a game for the rest of the season.
“I’ve seen a different Abbey Hsu … in terms of her mindset and her approach to attacking in games and being a killer,” Griffith said on March 22, 2022.
That newfound aggressiveness helped Hsu and Columbia make history: On March 16 last year, Columbia beat Holy Cross for its first-ever WNIT win, and Hsu broke the school record for career 3-pointers.
This season, Hsu has been even more comfortable as a go-to player, and the player who didn’t always want the ball late in games is gone. “That was my younger self,” Hsu said. “Now, from the help of my teammates … instilling confidence in me, I do have that confidence [with] the ball in my hands.”
Hsu has realized that she will never let her team down by missing a shot — or even airballing it. But not taking shots isn’t an option. That realization has helped Hsu turn the page more quickly when shots aren’t falling, which is what Hsu is most proud of about how she’s played this season. She pointed to an early December stretch in which she made just one of seven 3-point attempts at Stony Brook, then had a career-high 34 points on 9-for-11 3-point shooting at UMass three days later. (The nine made 3-pointers were another program record.)
“In the past, I would let that bring me in this little hole and be sad about it,” Hsu said of her shooting percentage at Stony Brook. “But I think that was a huge growth step in like, ‘Okay, what can you do next to make the next game better?’”
Against UMass, Griffith didn’t run many plays for Hsu, preferring for the Lions to find whoever was open rather than fall into “passing the ball to Abbey mode.” But Hsu still torched UMass’ defense, which didn’t send extra help to contain her.
On the other hand, extra help might not have made much difference: When Columbia played at then-No. 7 Iowa State on Nov. 20, the Cyclones built their entire game plan around preventing Hsu from shooting, according to Griffith. But they couldn’t execute, despite having last season’s Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, junior guard Lexi Donarski. Hsu scored 24 points on 9-for-17 shooting, including 4-for-8 from 3-point range.
“I think it’s only going to help her understand how good she is and also how high her ceiling is,” Griffith told reporters on Nov. 21. “… That’s got to feel good when you have the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year chasing you around the entire game and you can still get 24 points.”
On the season, Hsu is averaging 17.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game. She leads the nation with 3.7 3-pointers made per game and is shooting 44.5% from deep, which ranks in the 97th percentile.
Although opponents try to force Hsu off the 3-point line, she is taking fewer shots off the dribble than she did as a sophomore. Instead, Hsu is taking a career-high share (38.6%) of contested catch-and-shoot shots, with much success. She ranks in the 98th percentile nationally in points per play on those shots, and she’s shooting a whopping 50.6% on contested 3-pointers.
“When Abbey steps onto the court and she turns on the mindset that nobody can guard her, she is fearless,” senior forward Sienna Durr told The Next. “She will take a shot with a hand right in her face and be completely unfazed.”
Hsu’s confidence has also grown in other areas, including her leadership and her defense. At the end of last season, Hsu asked Griffith for help becoming a more vocal leader, and she was eventually named a team captain for this season. Hsu said that she has been learning in real time, using each practice to figure out what types of communication resonate most with individual teammates.
“She was always going to give you her best. But now she’s bringing other people along, which she — I don’t even think last year she was doing that as much,” Griffith told The Next. “… Her on-floor leadership and her finding her voice [have] been the two things I’ve been really proud of her for this year.”
Hsu has also worked with Griffith on her defense, wanting to be known as a two-way player instead of simply a scorer. She had always been a player who followed the scouting report, but sometimes she would be too reactive on defense, afraid to gamble and make a mistake. Griffith has encouraged her to use her athleticism more and play as freely and aggressively on defense as she does on offense. As Hsu put it, “You’re not always going to know what’s next. You kind of just [have] to scramble around.”
After Hsu helped hold Seton Hall’s star point guard, Lauren Park-Lane, to her lowest point total this season — nine points on 3-for-12 shooting — on Nov. 17, Pirates head coach Tony Bozzella told The Next that Hsu was “much more of a complete player” and that her defense was “far improved” from the teams’ meeting in the WNIT last March.
“Abbey’s not just a 3-point shooter anymore,” he said.
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When Hsu is playing at her best and with confidence, it takes an already elite Columbia team — currently 33rd in the national NET rankings — to another level.
“The confidence that she plays with when she’s really feeling herself is really inspiring,” Durr said, “and I love when she gets fired up because it literally fires up every single person on the team. Because we’re like, ‘Yes, that is how we play Columbia basketball, and that’s because of you.’”
Hsu will be the leader for Columbia basketball for another 14 months, and before she graduates, she could conceivably become Columbia’s all-time leading scorer across men’s and women’s basketball. She is also on pace to shatter the Ivy League record for career 3-pointers, as she is just 41 away from former Harvard guard Katie Benzan’s mark of 287. Some coaches, including Bozzella, believe she has a chance to make the WNBA, and at least one WNBA scout has already watched her play live.
Yet Griffith expects Hsu to be even better next season, fueled by the confidence she’s discovered this season. Griffith pointed to former Princeton guard Abby Meyers and current Columbia senior Hannah Pratt as players who unlocked a “dominance mindset” as seniors and relentlessly attacked defenses every game.
“I think Abbey’s going to make that switch,” Griffith said, “which, when she does, watch out.”
But already, it’s clear that Hsu is different, in ways that show up on the stat sheet and ways that give onlookers goosebumps. “The way she plays, the way she moves, the detail to her shots, it’s pretty magnetic,” Griffith told reporters on Jan. 19. She told a story about how, at a recent practice, onlookers were beside themselves seeing what Hsu could do, slapping each other’s arms and looking incredulous with every shot.
“She has the power to inspire when she plays,” Griffith said, “and she just needs to remember that.”
Howard Megdal contributed reporting to this story. All statistics represent games through Jan. 28, 2023.
Written by Jenn Hatfield
Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.