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Senior foreign exchange student Anna Seilund makes the varsity basketball team

Senior exchange student Anna Seilund wakes up at midnight in her Copenhagen home and makes her way toward the television. She turns it on to watch the Los Angeles Lakers battle the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals, which is taking place thousands of miles away. Her favorite player, Kobe Bryant, scores in every way imaginable, slashing under and shooting over the helpless Orlando defense. Anna is amazed by what she’s watching.

After turning off the television, she climbs back into bed. Soon enough, she will be in the United States, and she won’t have to wake up in the middle of the night to get her fix of basketball, a sport that she has loved her whole life.

This was Anna’s major dilemma. Living in a nation that is so indifferent to her favorite game, she was fascinated by the way Americans are captivated by the action on the hardwood. Anna’s passion for basketball is what led her across the Atlantic Ocean and onto the varsity girls’ basketball team at East. The Seilunds lived in the Kansas City area for two years until Anna was three due to Thomas’ job, but she didn’t remember a thing.

“I’ve always wanted to come here to play basketball,” Anna said. “In Denmark, it’s not really a big sport, but here, it’s huge.”

Anna was able to develop a love for the game with the help of her father, Thomas Seilund. Thomas played basketball his whole life, and when the first of his two children came along, he made sure the family tradition continued.

“I have always had a passion for the sport,” Thomas said. “I wanted to give Anna the same chance.”

At the age of four, Anna tagged along with her father for a practice coached by one of Thomas’ friends. Anna was enthralled with the action, and quickly joined the team. She worked on her game constantly in her backyard, always perfecting flaws in her game, until she was 15, when she tried out for the Danish under-16 national team. Anna was cut, and she kept that feeling of rejection in her mind until the next season, when she tried out for the same team and the same coach, Anja Andersen.

After a week of tryouts in which she displayed her improved shooting touch and her deft penetration skills, Anna entered Andersen’s office, and her coach told her that she had made the team. The first person Anna told was her most passionate supporter: her dad.

To ensure that she kept improving, Anna kept up her basketball efforts off the court, both in the gym and at home, where her mother, Annette Seilund, designed a basketball court in their backyard. Anna has become known for her work ethic, both by her coaches and teammates.

“An amazing thing with Anna is that she really wants to be the best,” Ida Klussmann, a teammate of hers from the U16 Danish national team, said. “I think it’s because of that she is so good. She’s the best in one-on-one, and she has a move that no one can stop. She can almost always score points.”

The primary place she has put these skills to use was the court in her backyard, where Anna and Thomas frequently had intense battles. They played FOOL, a game similar to HORSE, and Anna finally beat him for the first time this summer. She thinks she beat him on a three-pointer. Whatever the shot was, the conclusion was the same – she had finally taken him down. Thomas confesses that he was giving his best effort, but she simply is a better shooter.

The team has traveled all over Europe for tournaments, including Estonia and Sweden. Most recently, Anna’s team finished fourth in the U16 European Championships, the highest placing ever for a Danish girls’ national team, but Anna was still seeking a greater challenge.

“Sometimes, it’s not competitive enough,” Anna said. “We always play against the same teams.”

Anna had already defeated her toughest nemesis in her backyard, and she made the decision to come to the United States and play against better competition in a country where basketball is much more popular.

Her sendoff was a brief one. She arrived home from the championships in Estonia just a day before she left for the United States, so the family had a quiet meal at home and Annette helped her get everything packed. When Anna arrived at the airport on Aug. 11, her friends surprised her by showing up to send her off. It helped her realize how much she would miss them when she was gone.

“I was always thinking, ‘I’ll be fine, I’ll come back and everything will be the same,” Anna said. “But I got here, and I was very homesick.”

Anna had seen her new house on Google Earth, but she was now standing in front of the home she had only seen on her computer screen. She was surprised that it wasn’t surrounded by fields, which is what she expected from the United States. In her first few weeks here, Anna became accustomed to the house. She wasn’t having much luck making friends outside of it, and she was struggling greatly with her English.

When she needed some entertainment, she’d turn to “Desperate Housewives,” and her favorite character, Susan Mayer, played by Teri Hatcher. Even with her five years of experience speaking English, Anna found the show to be a big help with the language.

Soon after, Anna was even having dreams in English, in which she would talk to friends from Denmark who had no idea what she was saying. She now feels more comfortable, particularly from the help of her teammates. She went to a basketball camp at Blue Valley West with seniors Janna Graf and Haley Dalgleish, who were always able to help Anna out by giving her rides.

Anna might be accustomed to the states now, but she

hasn’t forgotten Denmark. She’s reminded of it each time she enters her room. Her walls are decorated by drawings and letters from her Danish friends and teammates, as well as pennants given to her by the coaches of Luxembourg and Slovakia after she was the most valuable player against those teams in Estonia.

Anna knows that if she wants to earn accolades like these here, she will have to put in the work.

“The basketball is much better,” Anna said. “The players are better, and they’re really into it.”

During tryouts two weeks ago, she got a taste of how the language barrier can come into play, even on the basketball court. After missing a few layups, the girls were forced to get on the line and run. Anna had no idea how long they were supposed to run, and she continued after everyone else had stopped. Anna was able to finish the drill and the tryout without enduring too much embarrassment.

On the final day of tryouts, Rhoades informed her that she had made the varsity team. Once again, she had good news to report to her dad after a long tryout.

“I am very happy for her,” Thomas said. “I know Anna will be thrilled to be part of such a competitive team.”

Anna loves telling her Danish teammates how good this East team is. She talks to them three times a week on Facebook, and she’ll rejoin the Danish national team when she returns next summer. She Skypes with her parents every week or two, but she still misses them. She misses the day-to-day routine from Denmark. She misses her friends.

Still, it’s hard not to notice the way Seilund is growing accustomed to the American lifestyle. On this day, she wears a blue long-sleeved shirt that reads, “Kansas Jayhawks Basketball.” Dalgleish gave it to her, and she’s trying to get Anna to a few games as well. Anna’s just gotten out of practice, and she’s still suited up in her gray sweatpants and Nike socks. A Columbia blue, black and white braid slinks down the right part of her hair.

Anna Seilund misses a lot of things about Denmark, but as she sits calmly on the off-white couch, one thing is as clear as her ever-improving English: she’s plenty comfortable here.

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Kevin Simpson

Kevin is a senior at Shawnee Mission East. This is his fourth year on staff. Read Full »

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