Television viewers from across the globe will experience firsthand the college basketball mania sweeping the U.S. this time of year called March Madness. They may be surprised to see some of their compatriots on the screen.
Take a look at the rosters of many of the U.S. universities’ teams participating in the men’s and women’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Basketball Championships, oft-referred to as March Madness tournaments. You’ll find players from Austria, Canada, Greece, Haiti, Nigeria, Spain, Ukraine and other countries.
They travel thousands of kilometers to study in the United States and to play their sport. Chen Yue of China is one. “American colleges have a high level of basketball and academics,” she told the Associated Press. “[Playing at a U.S. college] helps you not only with basketball, but for your whole life. It develops your whole character for the future.”
Nearly 975,000 international students attended U.S. colleges and universities in the 2014/2015 academic year, a record high. Of them, more than 500 will compete in this year’s men’s Division I basketball tournament, according to STATS, a sports data company, while 275 international women will compete. (This primer will help you make sense of the peculiarly American event, including who gets to play and why it’s so popular.)
Get to know the basketball accomplishments and personalities of some of the international players likely to be part of the March Madness tournaments. The play begins March 15 for the men and March 18 for the women. Winners will be crowned April 4-5.
Austria: Jakob Poeltl, University of Utah
— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) February 29, 2016
When he’s not playing basketball, Jakob enjoys watching past episodes of “Friends” and “Game of Thrones.”
Bahamas: Buddy Hield, University of Oklahoma
— Oklahoma Basketball (@OU_MBBall) March 6, 2016
Canada: Ruth Hamblin at Oregon State
— NCAA Women’s Basketball (@ncaawbb) March 7, 2016
Ruth lists winning back-to-back provincial championships in British Columbia as her biggest athletic thrill to date. She also likes to ride and show horses.
China: Chen Yue, University of California
— Cal:150 yrs of light (@Cal) February 24, 2016
Both of Yue’s parents played basketball professionally in China. She says the transition to the U.S. has been helped by the large number of Chinese students studying at Cal.
Greece: Eleanna Christinaki, University of Florida
— Gators Women’s Basketball (@GatorsWBK) December 3, 2015
Haiti: Skal Labissiere, University of Kentucky
— Michael Reaves (@MichaelMReaves) October 15, 2015
Skal survived the earthquake in his home country of Haiti in 2010 before moving to the U.S. He cites winning a most-valuable-player award at one of his first All-American basketball camps as among his most memorable moments.
Israel: Roman Sorkin, University of Oregon
WATCH: Roman Sorkin slams it in to cut Arizona's lead to three! Three minutes to go in the first half on ESPN2. https://t.co/ieox3QoAxs
— Oregon Men's Basketball (@OregonMBB) January 29, 2016
Roman was born in Minsk, Belarus. He played for Israel at the 2015 Under-20 European Championship of the International Basketball Federation, more commonly known as FIBA.
Nigeria: Evelyn Akhator, University of Kentucky
No big surprise here. Evelyn Akhator is Player of the Game after putting up a double-double in her first UK game! pic.twitter.com/M2RgcT5eNs
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) November 14, 2015
Evelyn is known for her sportsmanship and community outreach. In Lexington, Kentucky, she has volunteered at food banks and a retirement home.
Ukraine: Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, University of Kansas
— JayhawkSlant (@JayhawkSlant) February 8, 2016
Sviatoslav joined the Kansas Jayhawks in 2014 when he was 17 years old, the youngest player in the history of the “Big 12,” a collegiate athletic conference. He likes to be called “Svi.” Teammates say he is good at playing video games.