It’s all about the ‘Pham’-ily: Local tennis player rebuffs Yale for Minnesota

Sophomore Chi Pham turned down an offer from Yale to come to Minnesota.

Zach Eisendrath

Minnesota men’s tennis sophomore Chi Pham has seen it all.

Although Pham has had his share of misfortunes, he continues to have a surprisingly upbeat outlook on life.

“I say, everything in moderation and know what is important in life and what isn’t,” Pham said. “I’ve really realized that what you get out of life is what you put in.”

Pham was a highly touted Ivy League recruiting prospect – Yale’s number one target – during his senior year at The Blake School, a private school in Minneapolis.

As a prominent student-athlete at Blake – Pham compiled a 3.7 grade point average at what he calls “probably the top preparatory school in the nation” and won three state championships in four seasons – his plan was to play Ivy League tennis.

But plans change.

Ten years ago Pham was left devastated when his father died of a heart attack.

Ever since then, he has had an extremely close relationship with his older brother Viet.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota-Morris, Viet gave up everything to take care of Chi.

“I owe him a lot,” Pham said of his elder sibling. “He gave up a lot to take care of me. He was accepted to Columbia Law School but decided that it would be right to stay home and take care of me.”

Viet has also had a strong impact on Chi’s tennis career.

When Chi was 12, Viet took over as his coach.

Under Viet’s guidance, Chi’s game skyrocketed. He became one of the top juniors in the country.

By his senior year at Blake, Chi was the 17th-ranked 18-and-under player in the nation by the USTA.

When Gophers coach David Geatz offered him a chance to play in front of his hometown crowd and stay a miniscule 10 minutes away from his family, Pham put his Ivy League aspirations on hold.

After accepting Geatz’s offer, Chi – the only player on the team from private school – said he had trouble adjusting to his new surroundings.

“It was really weird because it was such a tight-knit, inspired learning environment (at Blake),” Pham said. “Then, when I came to the ‘U’ I was just another student.”

He struggled on the court as well.

At Blake, Pham played No. 1 singles since eighth grade; he petitioned his way onto the high school team a year early.

During Minnesota’s disorderly spring season, Pham saw a reduced role that produced limited success.

Not to mention a large dose of bad luck.

Currently, Pham is ineligible to play in the Big Ten after his counselor misjudged the amount of credits he needed to stay eligible, he said.

Even though Pham admits he sometimes has trouble staying motivated during his ineligibility, his peers disagree.

“Chi always shows up willing and wanting to play,” junior captain Mikey Kantar said.

Geatz, who has known Pham since he began playing tennis at the age of 9, had a similar response.

“He is a hardworking kid who loves tennis,” Geatz said. “He is always focused and determined.”

Despite getting the short end of the stick from the Big Ten, Chi said he is confident he will win the appeal process and return to action this spring.

Pham expects to play between fourth to sixth singles and second or third doubles with partner Nic Edlefsen when he does return.

His mentor, Viet, will be watching. He comes to every home match.

Through it all, he believes private school prepared him well for the college scene.

“The time management that I learned from going to Blake and playing the national tennis circuit at the same time was very good preparation for playing a Division I sport,” Pham said.

And what has he learned through all the adversity?

“Pretty much, why leave anything to the unknown?” Pham said “If you put your all into it, at least you won’t have any regrets.”