There are 342 teams competing at the Division I level of college basketball this season. Between them, there are a total of three Romanian players.
Naturally, two of them play at schools located four blocks apart.
Drexel junior forward Gabriela Marginean and Penn senior guard Anca Popovici play on opposite sides of Market Street in Philadelphia’s University City neighborhood, and their teams contest one of the better rivalries in the region.
It might not have the cachet of the Big 5, since the Dragons aren’t officially part of the City Series. But if you caught the nationally-televised game between the schools’ men's teams at the beginning of the season, you saw how seriously both programs take the matchup - and that it really does only take a few minutes to get from one school’s arena to the other on foot.
Mel wrote about this year’s women’s game after Drexel beat Penn,
, last Friday. As that game was the last in which Marginean and Popovici faced each other while in college, it seemed an appropriate time to take a closer look at their connection.
Marginean grew up in Cluj and Popovici in Arad. The two cities are the third- and 15th-largest in Romania, respectively, and are about a four-hour drive apart.
Popvici said the two played against each other a few times in Romania; they also played together on the Under-20 national team. Marginean was the team’s top scorer, averaging 19.3 points per game; Popovici dished out a team-high 2.4 assists per game.
But their friendship truly blossomed when Popovici moved to the United States to attend Mount de Chantal Academy in Wheeling, W. Va., for high school, and Marginean joined her a year later.
“She has always been a tremendous player,” Popovici said of Marginean. “When I came to Mount de Chantal, we needed more players, so we asked her to come.”
Marginean added that the recruiting visit, as it were, came during Popovici’s junior year.
Once Marginean got to Mount de Chantal, she and Popovici were roomate. Originally had no idea they’d end up near each other in college. But it wasn’t totally random either.
“[Marginean] was also looking at Villanova, so we thought there was potential for her to be here and we got excited,” Popovici said. “But we always joke that she’s following me around.”
The other common thread in their travels is former NBA player and Villanova alumnus Doug West, who was the athletic director at Mount de Chantal from 2004 to 2006. Now back on the Main Line as an assistant coach with the Wildcats’ men’s team, it’s a fair bet that West helped steer Popovici and Marginean towards the Philadelphia area.
There they were last week, facing off one final time at Penn’s fabled Palestra before heading in different directions once again. The numbers are still striking: three players spread across 342 Division I teams, and two of them play four blocks from each other.
But this being the time of year many of us devote to reuniting with family and friends, the story seems a good one to tell.