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La Salle's Cian Sullivan, an Ireland native, learning the ways of American college basketball

The 7-foot-2 player from Ireland, is working hard on getting stronger and improving his game as the Explorers prepare to play in a tournament in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Cian Sullivan of La Salle.
Cian Sullivan of La Salle.Read morePhoto courtesy of La Salle Athletics

After he reached 7 feet tall at the age of 17 as a basketball player in his native Ireland, Cian Sullivan found himself receiving plenty of advice on what his next move should be.

"Everybody would say to me, 'You should try to go over to America,'" Sullivan said. "So I thought that I would, and I just kind of did it."

He enrolled at St. Andrews, a prep school in Barrington, R.I., and found that being that tall on this side of the Atlantic not only attracts attention from gawkers, but also from American college coaches such as La Salle's John Giannini. About two months after arriving at school, Sullivan signed a national letter of intent to play for the Explorers.

Now 7-foot-2 and a redshirt freshman, Cian (pronounced KEE-ahn) Sullivan will be part of the team's delegation heading to Northern Ireland to compete in the inaugural Hall of Fame Belfast Classic on Friday and Saturday.

Sullivan lives in Tralee, County Kerry, and is believed to be the eighth player from Ireland to sign a letter of intent with a U.S. college.

"I'll have a lot of people there — my immediate family, people from high school, old coaches, a lot of people," Sullivan said. "It's about an eight-hour drive from my hometown to Belfast and everybody will be driving up."

Sullivan, who said he weighed 204 pounds when he first arrived on the La Salle campus and is 215 now, sat out from competition last season while getting accustomed to college basketball in this country and working on his strength and conditioning. He has played sparingly in four games this season, accounting for one point, but Giannini says he'll "definitely" play in the two games in Belfast.

Giannini said he became aware of Sullivan through his assistant coaches, Horace Owens and Sean Neal, after they had watched him play. When he went to see Sullivan, he figured he'd be observing "a true project, someone who might have the size and effort but might not be that good of a basketball player."

"I quickly discovered I was mistaken," Giannini said. "He made shots, he made free throws, he ran easily, caught the ball well. He's offensively skilled, no awkwardness to his offensive abilities at all. It's really just continuing to get stronger and improving his reactions playing against smaller, quicker guys which, when you're that size, that's almost everyone you play against."

Sullivan appears to have adjusted smoothly to his new surroundings, aided by two of his classmates, guards Isiah Deas and Saul Phiri.

"We've done a lot," Deas said. "We told him about the food to start out with, gotta try this, gotta try that. One day we went to the King of Prussia mall food court and we tried everything in there. To this day, we still don't know what he doesn't like. If he likes it, he eats it."

Deas said his group is entertained when people walk up to Sullivan and ask him how tall he is.

"They'll say, 'My God, you're so tall' and they'll ask him how tall he is and he'll say, '5-11,'" Deas said with a laugh. "And the responses when he says that are probably funnier: 'I'm 5-8, let me stand next to you.' And we're like, 'Come on, you can't believe he's 5-11.'"

Said Sullivan, "There are people that don't really know height. But I'm just playing around."

Sullivan has made quite an impression at La Salle. Giannini called him "someone who is impossible not to like."

"He's very sincere," he said. "He always tries hard at everything he does. He's trustworthy. He's a fun guy to be around, plus he has outstanding character."