Luxembourg is the eighth smallest country in Europe.
Surrounded by France, Germany and Belgium, its 999 square miles make it smaller than the state of Rhode Island. There are fewer than half the number of people in Luxembourg (602,881) than in Maine (1.34 million).
But that is where University of Maine women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon and her coaching staff found Anne Simon.
The freshman guard has made an immediate impact for an injury-ravaged team that must get the most out of its healthy players to have a successful season.
UMaine has lost America East Player and Defensive Player of the Year Blanca Millan (knee) and 2018-19 America East rebounding leader Fanny Wadling (concussion) for the season along with reserve forward Alex Bolozova (knee). Reserve senior guard Sierra Tapley and freshman forward Abbe Laurence are also sidelined with injuries.
That means the learning curve for the newcomers, including Simon, has been accelerated.
The 5-foot-8 Simon ranks third on the team in scoring with 9.7 points per game and is averaging 3.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.5 steals. She is second on the team in minutes played (30.3 per game) and field-goal percentage (.439), and is third in 3-point percentage (.318) and free-throw percentage (.750).
“I didn’t expect this, to be honest,” Simon said of her extensive role. “But I like to play. I like being on the court. I’m trying my best to help the team.”
As she continues to rack up minutes, Simon continues to improve. She has scored in double figures six times in the past seven games, averaging 17.4 ppg.
“The fact she is only a freshman is crazy,” senior guard Maddy McVicar of Calais said. “She has three more years to do [more] amazing things.”
“She scores every game and does great things on defense. She’s a great player,” junior point guard Dor Saar said.
Simon is fearless. She tenaciously attacks the rim with determination and purpose, and if she gets knocked down, she jumps right back up.
“That’s one of my strengths,” Simon said. “I’m not scared to attack.”
She became adept at asserting herself when playing with older players on the Luxembourg senior national team. Defenders played off her because they didn’t expect a young player to drive to the rim.
“Anne has done a great job,” Vachon said. “We’ve asked our freshmen to do a lot more than anyone had expected. Her confidence is growing every day.”
Simon began playing basketball when she was 5 after her cousin asked her if she wanted to join a practice.
“I found that I really liked basketball,” said Simon, who said soccer is the primary sport in Luxembourg.
“Basketball isn’t big back home,” she said.
But her national women’s basketball team has been an overachiever.
Simon, a three-year captain of the Luxembourg national team, averaged 16.4 points, 8 rebounds and 2.7 assists at the 2018 European Small Countries Championships to lead her team to a second-place finish.
“We were underdogs. Everybody thought they were going to get an easy win [against us]. But we did well, and they all said we had a real good team,” Simon said.
This is the first time she has lived away from home for an extended period, but she said she really likes being at UMaine.
“It’s a different culture. The food is different; the basketball is different,” Simon said. “Everybody is so friendly here. They are really open. They just want to help you.”
She enjoys her teammates, coaches and playing in front of the fans at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Simon is happy with her performance so far and hopes to keep improving.
“I just want to help the team any way I can. I’m going to stay focused the whole season long,” Simon said.
Simon and the Black Bears (5-10 overall, 1-0 in America East), visit Stony Brook for a 2 p.m. conference game Sunday.