The Rise of the International College Athlete

Ron KnabenbauerCorrespondent IOctober 13, 2008

With the financial crisis hitting all over the world, it is now clear that the world has definitely become a smaller place, and when something happens over there, it has a huge effect over here.


However, a smaller world isn’t necessarily a bad thing, at least when it comes to sports.


Increasing in the 90's, U.S. professional sports began to see an increase of international born athletes who made huge impacts for those sports clubs.


The increase of international athletes has not just substantially increased in professional sports these days, but on the collegiate level as well.


The University of Colorado will be home for 16 athletes this academic year who are not from the United States, but will play on one of the school's 11 Division-I intercollegiate sports.


Recruiting for these sports has taken a bigger international flavor, and nothing is clearer than Men’s Basketball Head Coach Jeff Bzdelik spending a portion of his summer overseas looking at international talent.


“We are wide open,” Bzdelik said. “We’re looking not only locally but internationally.”


This season, Bzdelik and the rest of the team will welcome Freshman Nate Tomlinson, the first player in team history from Australia.


For Tomlinson, the Australian-American culture is pretty similar, but there are a few differences when it comes to the game of basketball.


“Well I played in prep school so the style of play was a little different,” Tomlinson said. “It was more one-on-one kind of stuff. Back in Australia it’s more structured because we’re not as athletic or skilled as they are over here.”


Tomlinson played two years at Lee Academy in Maine before enrolling at Colorado, giving him time to get used to any differences between the two countries.


For international athletes, coming to a different country can be difficult at first, but for Women’s Tennis senior, Franziska Jendrian of Rodleban, Germany, the people in Boulder have made the adjustment a lot easier.



“I hadn’t traveled throughout Europe a lot, so going to a different country was a little different,” Jendrian said. “I like the perception of the states and how nice people are. Everyone is open and welcoming, so it’s not too hard to adjust.”


The Tennis team has the most international athletes of Colorado’s Division-I sports with four. The squad has players from Denmark, England, Germany, and Uruguay.


Sophomore Tennis player Abbie Probert, from London, England, agrees with Jendrian on the openness of the U.S., but also states that when it comes to Tennis, America is more about the team, in comparison to the emphasis on individualism back in England.


“Definitely a stronger sense of team, you win as a team, you lose as a team,” Probert said. “You know your teammates are always there for you, and they want you to win as much as you want them to win.”


For Jendrian, the mixture of international and American players provides the perfect balance for the Tennis squad.


“What we have is the perfect mix: half international, half American,” Jendrian said. “It’s nice having diversity because the team can help you study and stuff like that, but it helps that the American players can guide you such as if coach says, ‘let's meet at noodles.’ For us (international athletes) it would be a bit confusing to understand what she was talking about.”


Probert agrees with Jendrian that the mixture is a good thing.


“It’s really good, we all bring something to the table, and we all took different paths to get to Boulder,” Probert said. “It’s really positive. I get to spend time with people who are from different backgrounds and different countries.”


Probert’s journey to another country isn’t anything new for her, she trains in Australia for a little bit and at age 16, she played 18 months in Barcelona, Spain.


Probert’s time in Barcelona was her first experience away from her home.


“It was my first time being away from home,” Probert said. “I kind of was just thrown into the deep end, I didn’t speak Spanish, and I was living on my own.”


For most international athletes at CU, the hardest part about playing in America is being far away from their family and friends back in their home country.


“What I miss most is my family, I would love them to be here,” Jendrian said. “My dad came over last spring to watch me play, and my mom is coming this spring. My brother came two summers ago in the summer of 2006 to visit so that was great.”


For Tomlinson, heading home to see his family means a 17-hour flight over the Pacific Ocean.


“I’ve gotten used to the long flight,” Tomlinson said. “The first time it was unbelievable, it took forever, but now I’m so used to it I just fall asleep.”


As travel and communication between countries increases, there will continue to be an increase in international athletes not only in professional sports, but also on the college level.


For coach Bzdelik, the increase of international athletes won’t just be seen at Colorado, but at other institutions around the nation.


“Well I think every school will see an increase,” Bzdelik said. “The world has gotten smaller, so to speak.”