From Sydney to Walla Walla: Chircu’s Journey to Whitman’s Basketball Team

Phil Chircu is a long way from home, but the Australian Jan-start already has a big presence on campus. Coming from an impressive pre-college basketball career including playing on the Australian Under-14 National team and at the Under-17 world championships, Chircu is now an integral part of the Whitman men’s varsity basketball team.

Phil Chircu '16.  Photos by Halley McCormick.

Phil Chircu ’16 is an exciting addition to the men’s varsity basketball team this year. Photos by Halley McCormick.

Chircu got his start in basketball when he was 11 and growing up in the greater Sydney area.

“I was really socially awkward and just too lanky, too long for my body. So my parents thought it was time to get me into sports and basketball was the primary choice,” said Chircu.

Since his school team was not the strongest option, Chircu played club basketball. When he was 13, his club team won the national championship.

“We ended up winning against another Sydney team. They had been our rivals that whole year and we ended up on top so that was pretty cool. That was major at that time in my life because we were the best club team in Australia then,” said Chircu.

Chricu’s journey from Sydney to Walla Walla involved a bit of luck and a lot of communication. Originally, Chircu had his sights set on schools in the Ivy League because they were the only American schools he was familiar with. When that did not work out, he gave up on his plans to come to the U.S. for college and planned to attend Sydney University. While Sydney University is an excellent school, it lacked the high-caliber basketball he was interested in pursuing.

Through a streak of good fortune, Coach Matt Airy, men’s assistant varsity basketball coach, heard about Chircu while on a recruiting trail this past summer.

“After making contact with [Phil], we found that he was every bit the outstanding student, player and person that he was reported to be. We kept in touch throughout the end of the summer and into the fall, and once it became clear that Whitman was where Phil wanted to be, he applied and was accepted for spring admission,” said Coach Airy.

Chircu’s transition to Whitman life has been smooth and seamless. This is his fourth time coming to America, so culturally it has not been too much of a shock. Chircu has meshed well with his teammates and is already establishing great camaraderie. The basketball team helped him move in and get situated and has been a solid support group.

Phil Chircu '16 (right) races teammate Ben Eisenhardt '14 to the ball during a recent practice.

Chircu (right) races teammate Ben Eisenhardt ’14 to the ball during a recent practice.

Coach Airy has continued to be impressed with Chircu’s charisma and dedication. As a new addition to the team, Chircu has contributed immensely on and off the court to the team dynamic.

“Phil has a warmth and enthusiasm that is infectious, and has enabled him to develop bonds with the other guys on the team remarkably fast,” said Coach Airy. “In addition, he is an exceptional basketball talent and at 6’7″ is as good a shooter as we’ve had here. Most importantly, he’s been ‘all in’ for his teammates from the moment he met them, which is no small feat, especially for someone who traveled from the other side of the world to get here.”

Now that he is finally at Whitman, Chircu is able to put into motion some of his ambitious goals.

Chircu looks for a pass during practice.

Chircu looks for a pass during practice.

“My main priority for me, personally, is to get adjusted to the system and play style. The biggest adjustment for me is defensively because I’ve never played this way. It’s all about pressure so it’s taking some time to get used to. Other than that, just anything I can do to help the team win and achieve our goal of winning the NWC. That’s the goal we all hold and that’s what comes first,” said Chircu.

Even though it is a long way down the road, Chircu also hopes to pursue a professional basketball career after his time at Whitman. His parents are Romanian so he has a Romanian birth certificate and can obtain a UK passport. He has strongly considered playing in Europe in some professional leagues after college. But, for now, he intends to focus on college basketball and his studies. He is quite set on practicing law, and plans to study a mixture of economics and politics while at Whitman.

When he is not on the court or in the library, Chircu enjoys watching movies, perusing Facebook, hanging out with friends and gaming.

“Occasionally I do a little bit of gaming on the computer. A little Starcraft II, a little Age of Empires, which is a bit of a throwback. I’ve got some friends back home and we’ve kind of rekindled the whole Age of Empires thing so we play a bit of that when we have time,” said Chircu.

Chircu also hopes to get involved with other campus activities, but finds it difficult with meeting times that often conflict with his training schedule.

“I’m always on the lookout for new things. I’m probably going to join the Whitman Investment Corporation; that’s something I’m pretty keen on. I’m still finding my way around here,” said Chircu.

Whitman is lucky to have Phil on campus, and Coach Airy is thankful to all those who worked hard and made it possible.

“Phil’s presence at Whitman is an example of what is truly special about our college, in that it took the collaborative efforts of dozens of people across campus to make it happen. From Dean of Admissions Tony Cabasco and the Admissions and Financial Aid staff, to International Student Advisor Kris Barry, there were people all over campus who made huge efforts to help make it possible for Phil to come to Whitman. These people do everything they can to find ways to bring in students like Phil, no matter the distance or difficulty involved. They go above and beyond on a daily basis, and the college benefits immensely from their efforts,” said Coach Airy.




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