How did these sisters from a small city in the Carpathian Mountains, in the Transylvania region of Romania, realize that college basketball in the United States was right for them?
Sports are important in their family, and so is education. The opportunity to do both did not easily coexist at home in Brasov.
“Our dad was a professional volleyball player,’’ Drexel senior guard Ana Ferariu said. “Our grandfather as well — he actually went to the Olympics in Tokyo in 1964. His wife, our grandmother, played basketball. She was on the national team.”
So, a big check on the athletic genes.
“Mom’s side was more intellectual,” said Ana, sitting with her sister Maria, a freshman teammate. “Her mother was a math teacher at the university. ... My mom is a doctor for diabetes and nutrition.”
Both Ferariu sisters have played hoops at the national youth level. Going to a university at home wasn’t the way to keep playing. Why Drexel? Dragons fans know that the greatest scorer in the school’s history, Gabriela Marginean, is from Romania, where she has starred for years on the national team.
“She came to our game. She helped us a lot,’’ Ana said. “She asked if I was interested in playing in the States. She put me in contact with the coaches.”
Ana Ferariu has been a rotation guard, with strong court vision, an ability to split a defense.
“She’s a kid you root for,’’ said her coach, Denise Dillon. “She has so much to offer, on and off the court.”
You get a sense of that in conversation. For instance, when Ana tells the story of her grandfather going to the Olympics.
“They had a really good chance to win the gold medal in that Olympics,’’ Ana said.
“Everybody knew it,” Maria said.
History books confirm it. They’d beaten the top European competition already.
“In Romania, they didn’t have a lot of good conditions; the food wasn’t good,’’ Ana said. “They stayed in student dorms, which were terrible in that period of time."
Communist-era sports. You can get the picture.
“They got to the Olympics, and they were pretty excited,’’ Ana said. “They went there — they had so many food options. My grandfather told us how they ate so much; they had foods they had never seen in Romania. They were so full. When they got the games …”
“They also had two players who were injured,’’ Maria cut in.
“That’s not the funny part,’’ Ana said. “They ate so much and so much. They couldn’t really run or jump.”
They finished fourth. Would their grandfather tell the story for laughs or be mad?
“He was always mad,’’ Ana Ferariu said. “He was mad because of the conditions in Romania, mad because they lost.”
The sisters obviously have lived in a different era, their parents in a transition time. Ask them what they miss about Romania.
“Definitely the food,’’ Maria said. “All the food. The food in Romania is fresher; it has less chemicals.”
“Most of them are local products,’’ Ana said. “That’s actually what we look for.”
Here, foods are branded and marketed as organic. In Romania, the sisters said, that’s just food.
Ana has a different answer on what she misses. Hiking, she said.
“Especially in the summer,’’ she said. “We live in the mountains, so our city is 20 minutes away from the skiing resort.”
“Not during the NCAA,’’ Ana said. “Our hometown, everybody skis, and everybody hikes.”
While Ana Ferariu came straight to Drexel, Maria played two years of high school basketball in Maryland.
“I don’t like routine,’’ Maria said. “I like to change stuff and travel a lot. To be able to go and play in the United States — basketball is supposed to be the best here.”
It was an adjustment. More just playing, seemingly more unorganized, but very athletic. At home, where soccer is the prime sport, Ana fell for basketball first at the local sports club.
“My sister started going — it’s a funny story, I don’t know if she wants me to tell it,’’ Ana said before Maria sat down.
When Maria arrived, she started telling it on herself.
“She was 5. I was 7,’’ Ana had already begun. “We started warming up. She always went to the coach, ‘I’m not feeling very well today.’ All the time. ‘I have a stomachache, or a headache, or something.’ The coach always said, ‘OK, go sit on the bench and wait for practice to end.’ She always, always fell asleep.”
“I just did it because I was the youngest sister,’’ Maria said, confirming the fake ailments, which ended, she said, when she started playing with her own age group. “I started to grow up.”
In conversation, there’s a sweetness about the two of them.
“I think she’s very smart on the court,’’ Maria said when asked what’s the best part of Ana’s game.
“Oh, really. I wanted to say that about you,’’ Ana said.
And what of Maria’s game?
“I really like her shot,’’ Ana said. “I’ve always been a little jealous because her form shooting is way better than mine.”
The Ferariu sisters aren’t the stars on this Drexel team, which will led by Bailey Greenberg, the returning Colonial Athletic Association player of the year. But Maria noted that while the playing transition to college basketball is more difficult than she expected, it’s also easier than she expected “because of the girls on the team and the coaches and the staff. At home, we wouldn’t be able to do both, sports and school. Here, everybody supports each other. That makes it easier.”
Ana is a math major, not sure if she’ll wind up working in this country or in Europe.
"I want to go into statistics or computer science after Drexel,’’ Ana said.
Maria isn’t thinking about later. She just got to Market Street.
“I have to get stronger and faster,’’ said the 6-footer, a few inches taller than her older sister.
If you understand their bloodlines, the whole path makes sense.
“She still is a motivation,’’ Maria said of Ana.