Keelan Cairns leaving Penn for a semester-UPDATED

We've learned that sophomore forward Keelan Cairns has decided to leave Penn for a semester following an early-season stretch that has seen the Belfast, Ireland native struggle with back issues that have kept him from dressing.

We've also now learned that Cairns is headed home after exams and will stay home in Ireland for the spring semester. He is planning to have back surgery and will start his rehab over there.

Cairns plans to return at the start of summer for preseason and resume his Penn basketball career at that time.

It remains to be seen whether he plans on trying for a redshirt this season and picking up a fifth year of eligibility.

Cairns played nine total minutes for Penn last season before not seeing any playing time so far in 2012-13.

In October, we noted a blog post Cairns wrote for the Courtside Collective in which he admitted to considering surgery to shave off the bulging disc in his back and release the trapped nerve inhibiting him.


Keelan Cairns considers back surgery

Sophomore hoops player Keelan Cairns has begun writing for a new blog, The Courtside Collective. It sounds like he seems to make this a recurring gig, and in his first post he recounts his freshman season.

The 6-foot-10 Ireland native had very limited time due to a back injury and said the following in the blog post:

My freshman year didn't go exactly as planned as I suffered an injury during the pre-season, which plagued me all year long and followed me into this year. I went through everything the doctors said without much success. So, this year I'm taking a more drastic approach and I am considering surgery to shave off the bulging disc in my back, releasing the trapped nerve inhibiting me.

We are not given access to the players for interviews until official practices begin next week, so that's all the information we have for now. Stay tuned for more information as soon as we have it.

Penn Men’s basketball officially announces class of 2015

No surprises here: Penn Athletics officially announced its incoming freshman class for men's basketball, and it's the same six we've known about since the end of the spring semester.

Three guards: Camryn Crocker (Cypress, Calif.), Simeon Esprit (London, England) and Patrick Lucas-Perry (Grand Blanc, Mich.); and three forwards: Keelan Cairns (Belfast, Ireland), Greg Louis (West Palm Beach, Fla.) and Henry Brooks, (Fairburn, Ga.) will make up coach Jerome Allen's newest class.

Many of the freshman are already on campus and some played with a few of their future teammates in area summer league basketball games. According to Director of Athletic Communications Mike Mahoney, the basketball coaches will not make the freshmen available for interviews until preseason begins in October, so don't expect to hear much from them for the next few weeks.

The one name not on the list is Philly forward Xavier Harris, who committed to Penn last year but had to decommit this summer. Harris is reportedly taking a prep year at the Peddie School (coincidentally, near Princeton, N.J.) and plans to come to Penn in the next recruiting class, according to the Inquirer's Keith Pompey:

Xavier Harris, a recent Constitution graduate, will attend a prep school next year instead of going to Penn as originally planned.The 6-5 forward hopes to bring up his SAT score and enroll at Penn in the fall of 2012. He decided to take the prep school route over accepting scholarship offers from Boston University, Vermont, Robert Morris, and Monmouth. Harris is leaning toward spending his prep year at the Peddie School in Hightstown, N.J.

The release from Penn with a short quote from Allen and bios of each incoming player is copied after the jump.

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Keelan Cairns Talks Penn Hoops (briefly)

When incoming freshman Keelan Cairns (out of Ireland) committed to Penn last year, he was a bit of an unknown commodity. We now know the 6'10 outside shooter has ties to Penn hoops and he was partly drawn to Penn due to coach Jerome Allen's Euro-style influence. Anyway, here's some more background on Cairns, who talks about Penn for a little bit before we dive into a nice video on a basketball program he has been involved with for some time. Worth a watch, if only for the basketball drills coupled with awesome Irish accents. Also, in case you were wondering, Cairns did not de-commit and sign with Penn State. Just an honest mistake in his title card.

More from across the pond

I was able to get a wire across the ol' transatlantic cable to Penn's two new European recruits, Simeon Esprit of England and Keelan Cairns of Ireland and asked them each a few questions about their recruitment, Penn and their games.

Brian Kotloff wrote a great story in today's DP about the long and winding connections the two players have to Penn, so check that out after hearing what the two future Quakers had to say:

Talk about your recruitment. I heard you visited last week — what did you think of your trip?

Simeon: The trip to the University of Pennsylvania was great. we were welcomed by both the players and coaching staff. they gave us a feel of life at UPenn. I was Amazed by the architecture and facilities on campus.

Keelan: My recruitment came about through a link between my former high school, St.Malachys College Belfast, and UPenn. Therefore I heard about Upenn after graduating in '10 but decided to take the equivalent to a prep school year at Barking Abbey and to play for the London Leopards in the EBL division 1.
The trip over was fantastic, in Ireland and England we are not exposed to college basketball as much and basketball as a sport is seem almost as a second tier sport, so the Palestra and history there was quite overwhelming. The College as a whole is totally different to anything we have back home so everything was new and made everything more enjoyable for me.

How long has the recruiting process been going on for you and which coaches were you in touch with?

Keelan: The recruitment process started back in November i think with a call from Washington state University. Then after this I had been getting interest from a range of colleges from Hartford, to Illinois state, to Tennessee at Chattanooga and NJIT and I think more but I wanted to have the opportunity to play at the highest level I could while getting the best of both worlds with education and basketball both a priority.

What is Jerome Allen's reputation like over in England and how did that factor into your commitment?

Keelan: I did not know of Jerome Allen's reputation before i looked into it, but a few of my coaches and their contacts were aware of him during his 11 years in Europe. I think his time spent playing overseas has had a massive influence into my commitment as it is clear there is much European influence in his coaching style. Some of the basic rules of his team are exactly what i am playing this year and have been playing my whole career, so i think i will be able to catch on to his program quickly and produce straight away.

Had you hoped to play together? Are you excited to have someone familiar coming over with you?

Simeon: During the whole recruiting process we never expected we would be given the opportunity to or be recruited by the same school. Fortunately we have. We enjoy playing together and complement each others game. Coming over with someone I know will help me settle sooner.

Keelan: Me and Simeon have played together this whole season and we both intended to go to college in the states to play basketball, but we never discussed or thought of the possibility of playing stateside on the same team, so when news arose that UPenn had an interest in us both we made a deal that we either both go to Penn or that neither of us go to Penn and it turns out that worked out pretty nicely for us both.
Yeah, I think having a teammate come over with me to play makes the whole experience much more comfortable as I will already have someone I know and trust with me. It also makes the process of being so far away from home a little easier for us both. But hopefully after a few months we will feel at home anyway in Penn.

Describe strengths and weaknesses of your games?

Keelan: I am a pretty versatile player that can play both inside and out. I have played as a 4 man and also a wing player this year depending on whatever line up we have on. Strengths to my game are my shooting, which helps stretch the floor and usually takes away the helpside defense of a big on the opposing team and my versatility all over the court as I can dribble and pass well for my size which will hopefully cause matchup problems for opposing teams. My main weakness is at the moment is admittedly my strength and explosiveness but hopefully I can make up for whatever I lack with other aspects of my game.
I think Simeon is a great player because he can shoot and get to the basket as well as anyone, plus he is also a lengthy and quick wing defender that can guard multiple positions.

What differences do you expect between the game over in England and here in the USA and how are you going to adapt?

Simeon: The USA game will be very different to here in the UK. The players in the US are conditioned better and more athletic. I expect their intensity of play to be higher as a result. However, the UK use a 24 second shot clock as to your 35. I will have to get used to offences taking longer.

Keelan: Usually I would answer with the game being more one on one based in the USA than Europe but I think Coach Allen's scheme involves lots of ball and player movement which is typical of the European style. I think some aspects of the game are slower due the the longer shot clock to which I am used to, we have a 24 second shot clock for the age of 10, so to adapt I think I will have to know what shot is good and what shot is bad for me to take early in an offence and to always take shots I practice rather than inventing or forcing anything too early on.

Duo from Europe commits to Penn (UPDATED)

Sharpshooting 6-foot-10 forward Keelan Cairns committed to Penn yesterday from the United Kingdom. Born in Belfast, Ireland and currently playing at Barking Abbey in Essex, England, Cairns tweeted around 11 p.m. British time that he had committed to play from Penn. Watch his highlights here.

Cairns' teammate, Simeon Esprit, a 6-foot-6 guard, committed to the Quakers today, a source close to the situation told a Daily Pennsylvanian Sports reporter. He played for England's U-16 men's basketball team. Watch his highlights here.

The two reportedly visited campus last week. They are the 4th and 5th recruits to join Penn coach Jerome Allen's first official recruiting class.

"Our high school in Ireland has connections with Penn through the Penn relays and Keelan was also part of a school tour to Philly & New England a few years ago, that's probably where he was first seen," the source said.

Senior Staff Writer Noah Rosenstein contributed reporting to this story.

UPDATE (10 AM): Lloyd Gardner, Cairns and Esprit's coach at Barking Abbey, responded to an email from a few days ago after waiting for the two to commit to Penn.

According to Gardner, Esprit was recruited by Maine, Valparaiso, Hartford and Davidson, while Cairns was recruited by Florida International, Hartford and Tennessee Tech.

Though Gardner provided no time frame, he said their interest began when they were contacted by assistant coach Mike Martin, so they sent him game tapes and then Martin spoke with the players and their families. Head coach Jerome Allen took a visit to London to see them both play, and invited them to the visit that took place March 21-22 with Martin and Allen.

Gardner wrote, "Both players fell in love with Penn during their visit. They loved the college setting and the chance to receive such a high quality education.  They spent time with the players on the team and thought that Penn was an ideal fit for them.  They have both now canceled visits with other Universities as they are completely sure that Penn offers them the ideal environment to succeed as student athletes.  They both stressed to me how welcoming the players and staff were to them during their visit."

Allen's European playing experience proved to be another key, as Gardner called it a "vital factor in both of them committing to play for Penn." Both would like to play professionally following their college careers, and saw Allen as a great person to work with in order to accomplish that. Gardner explained that Allen has a "tremendous reputation" in Europe both "on and off the court" as a player and a coach, and he thinks all European players would be interested in playing for him.

As far as their immediate impact goes, Gardner said the Penn coaches are expecting both to "compete right away," but both need to add strength before next season. Barking Abbey plays in a league that includes three former Ivy League players - Nico Scott and Kevin Bulger from Columbia and Paul Nelson from Yale - and Cairns and Esprit have "matched up well against them." Here is Gardner's breakdown of the strengths of their games:

"Keelan is a 6'11 forward who's biggest strength is his ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter, he is very much a European style big man and possess a high skill set.  He has an excellent basketball IQ and is able to pass and handle the ball well for a player of his position and size.  He creates big match up problems for the opposition as he drags opposing big men away from the basket."

"Simeon is a 6'6 left handed small forward who is a good athlete.  He is long and finishes well at the basket and is one of the top three point shooters in our league.  He is an excellent competitor who is able to play well in any system and always plays under control."

This summer, Esprit will play for the England U18 Junior National Team in the European Championships, while Cairns is currently deciding whether to make himself eligible for the Great Britain U20 National Team after previously playing in Ireland.

- Brian Kotloff