By Sean Meyers - Westmoreland Sports Network
When Jenna Kaufman wrapped up her college basketball career last season with the Griffins and then graduated from Seton Hill, she wasn't exactly sure what would come next. Kaufman, who led Seton Hill in scoring last season at 17.4 points per game, and scored well over 1,000 points in her career, wanted to continue playing basketball. She thought back to a program called "Sports Changes Life," which she heard about through her older sister a few years prior.
"Senior year, the idea just kind of came into my mind again," Kaufman explained of her interest in the program.
She then completed the online application and was interviewed twice via Skype. In June, she was approved for the program, and just weeks later, Kaufman departed for Ireland to pursue her master's degree, while also playing basketball and mentoring children.
As part of Sports Changes Life, Kaufman joined Ulster University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. While she plays for the university, the schedule is sporadic, so the majority of her games come as part of a club team – the Ulster Elks.
The league includes players of varying ages, ranging from 16-year olds to players in their 30s. The majority of the competitors are in their early or mid-20s, however, including some Americans who play professionally.
"At first, I thought it was not as competitive as NCAA basketball, but as the season has progressed, we've been playing better teams and it's gotten a lot more competitive," Kaufman detailed.
While the competition level has increased recently, Kaufman and her team continue to excel. In eight contests, Kaufman is averaging 17.5 points per game, which ranks ninth in the league. She's also grabbed 8.4 rebounds, dished out 1.9 assists, and contributed 1.4 steals per game. Last Saturday, the Elks prevailed in their semifinals game of the National Cup
Despite Kaufman's impressive stat line, she said that it took some time to adjust to the game in Ireland. In addition to different rules, such as a 24-second shot clock, the style of play differs greatly for the United States. "We had to get used to playing with people who are smaller than us," Kaufman said about herself and one of her teammates, who previously played at Siena College. "Here, we're some of the biggest players in our league. We had to get kind of assimilated to the referees because they tend to call a lot of fouls on us."
The schedule for basketball has also been an adjustment, as Kaufman practices only twice a week, and then plays
Basketball hasn't been her only responsibility abroad, however. The program pays for Kaufman's classwork towards her master's degree in exercise and sports psychology. However, she has just three classes per month.
"Luckily, that isn't keeping me too busy, so I can focus more on basketball and the community service," she said.
That community service consists of both coaching and providing mentoring to troubled youths. Kaufman lends her basketball expertise to players typically between ages 12-16 as part of sports clinics.
"It's kids who are from bad areas and we pretty much get them off the streets at night. That's something that I've really enjoyed doing – just getting to know the kids over time," she said.
Although Kaufman has been overseas since late August, she has not felt as homesick as she originally anticipated. She noted that everyone in Belfast has been friendly and welcoming, and she elected to travel throughout Europe during the Christmas break, as opposed to returning to her family in Maryland.
That said, she still keeps in close contact with her family and friends back home, including Seton Hill head coach Mark Katarski, and her former teammates.
"I talked to coach a few times, and I keep in touch with a few of the girls on the team pretty much every day," she revealed.
The basketball season ends in March, but Kaufman will also play in a few year-end tournaments in April. Additionally, there's a chance her team will play outside of Ireland, as part of a tournament in Scotland.
The Sports Changes Life program concludes in May, and Kaufman will return stateside in June. From there, she might consider returning overseas to pursue playing basketball at a professional level.
Regardless of her future, though, Kaufman is certainly enjoying the present.
"It's honestly been really nice. I've settled in nicely," she said.