Some only watched the NBA. Others grew up with soccer. But when they came to Kansas University, many international students at the school said it didn’t take long to learn about all things Jayhawk basketball.
And as the team advances in the NCAA Tournament, they’re getting caught up in the enthusiasm along with the rest of the community.
Shenji Pan, a junior from China’s Jiangsu province, said the only sporting event that compares to the level of excitement around the NCAA Tournament in the U.S. is the World Cup in China.
And as for the large celebrations on Massachusetts Street, the ones where strangers exchange hugs and high-fives?
In China, if you act that crazily, Pan said, people would probably look at you rather strangely.
“We wouldn’t get that excited,” he said. “Maybe we’d laugh a little bit. We wouldn’t high-five strangers.”
But that didn’t stop Pan and several friends. Right after KU beat North Carolina on Sunday night, he ran down to Massachusetts Street, too. He liked it, Pan admitted.
“I think it’s something unique about U.S. college life,” he said. “There’s a certain level of excitement that otherwise you can’t get anywhere.”
And, yes, he said, he did high-five strangers.
Lavesh Mirpuri, a sophomore from Lima, Peru, is the vice president of a group for international students.
“It’s just natural for a KU student to enjoy basketball and enjoy the games,” he said.
He grew up a big soccer fan, and while he still enjoys soccer, he said that Jayhawk basketball might be “kind of on the same level.”
And when you’ve lived with essentially one major sport your whole life, that’s no small statement.
While he did play some basketball in Peru, he said, major college sports were something new to Mirpuri.
“In Peru, universities don’t have these kinds of college sports,” he said. “There are some club teams that are big.”
But it’s not the same, he said. After all, some of these guys are going to the NBA.
Yusufu Kamara, a graduate student from Freetown, Sierra Leone, said he hardly knew about basketball at all before he came to KU. He estimates 95 percent of his knowledge of the rules, the players and the game itself he picked up while he was here.
He knew about Michael Jordan — “Everybody in the world knows him,” Kamara said — but knew nothing about Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
Today, he follows the games wherever he is, often checking an app on his cellphone or logging in to watch KU online.
Tournament time is especially exciting, and he’s picked up so much of the sport he’s even using NCAA Tournament metaphors now to describe what sports are like in Africa.
There, he said, soccer is big. And most of the African nations cheer for each other in the World Cup each year.
“Last year, when VCU came from nowhere” in the basketball tournament, he said. “That’s how African countries are perceived in the World Cup.”