They came across the Atlantic Ocean to get here, but found themselves right at home.
Freshmen basketball players Keelan Cairns and Simeon Esprit hail from Ireland and England, respectively, but have fit right in at Penn so far — or as well as two tall athletes with foreign accents can fit in.
“It’s been a good experience and I’ve liked it,” the 6-foot-10 Cairns said. “The second I got here, I felt like I was on the team.”
The smooth transition may have a lot to do with the team’s dynamic.
Both Cairns and Esprit say that their teammates and coaches have played a crucial part in helping them adjust to the American lifestyle off the court and the different style of play on it. They also agree that one person who has been of particular help is coach Jerome Allen.
Allen was born and raised in the Philadelphia area and spent 11 years playing professionally across Europe. He not only understands the European game, but also knows what it’s like to play far from home.
“At the end of the day, you can’t just hop in a car, train or bus to go see mom, dad, brother or sister,” Allen said. “So that’s our responsibility — to be that surrogate family for those guys.”
While both Cairns and Esprit have been enjoying everything from meeting new people to trying different “sweets” — Cairns’s words — they both also acknowledge that adjusting to a different style of play is taking some time.
“To be honest, I think I’m still adjusting,” the 6-6 Esprit said. “I knew it was going to be faster, more intense and aggressive, but you only really know once you step onto the court, which I witnessed first hand in the two scrimmages we had.”
That’s not to say that the two Europeans don’t have what it takes to play at this level.
Both represented England over the summer at the Europe Under-18 Championships in Bulgaria, getting the chance to play against some of the best European players in their age group.
Additionally, Esprit believes that the different “rhythms and patterns” of the European game can be to their advantage against American players who may never have been exposed to the style of play.
Both players still miss home and the comforts it provides, whether it is their friends, family or surroundings. But when it comes to playing basketball, the two have no doubt that this is the place to be.
“In England, everyone loves soccer, rugby and tennis, but everyone here loves basketball,” Esprit said. “I really appreciate how everyone here respects the hard work I put into the sport that I love.”