For most of Cheshire Phoenix's new recruits crossing the pond this summer it will be their first experience of the green and pleasant county that the club represents.

But for one new addition, despite hailing from Chicago, he already has strong connections to the county which he will call home for the forthcoming season.

Arriving from Rollins College in Florida, Jeff Dirkin is already well versed in British basketball, despite the fact that his signing with the Nix represents his first foray into the world of professional basketball following an impressive college career at NCAA Division Two level.

The 23-year-old has already pulled on a GB jersey at under 20s level owing to his father hailing from the small town of Marple, which although is now part of Greater Manchester, has its historical roots in Cheshire. It's also just a 50-minute drive from where Dirkin will begin his professional career with the Phoenix when the BBL season kicks off next month.

Jeff Dirkin comes from a family of talented athletes
Jeff Dirkin comes from a family of talented athletes

It runs in the family

“My dad was born and raised in Marple, until he moved to the States after his undergrad,” said 6ft 8ins power forward Dirkin, who comes from a family with a strong athletic pedigree.

“His side of my family still lives in Bristol, so it is nice to be close to family and my young cousins who are aspiring basketball players themselves will get to see me play.

“I really enjoyed playing with the GB and England teams growing up. My dad is quite proud of that fact that I am the third generation in our family to have competed for England on some level with my dad throwing the discus and my grandfather running cross country.”

While a high basketball IQ is a must for any player wanting to make a career for themselves in the professional game, Dirkin, an honours student at Rollins, is a player who also possesses a quick mind off the court having completed a degree in Business Administration with a Finance and Management concentration and being able to speak what he describes as 'conversational' Japanese.

Ex-Brown University standout Sean McGonagill is a familiar face to Jeff Dirkin
Ex-Brown University standout Sean McGonagill is a familiar face to Jeff Dirkin

A friendly face

And his switch to Cheshire will also see him link up once more with an old high school friend in Sean McGonagill, a point guard out of Brown University who signed for head coach John Lavery's side back in June following a successful season of professional hoops in Germany's Regionalliga with Giants Dusseldorf. It is a reunion that Dirkin is very much looking forward to.

“Sean is a great player and a better person,” said Dirkin. “We played AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) or club basketball in high school. Our last year of AAU I believe our record was about 44-6, finishing 13th overall at nationals in Orlando, so we have had a lot of success together.

“Sean is a joy to be on the court with, he plays the game the right way, so I am very excited that we are able to compete together again.

“I knew I wanted to continue playing after my career at Rollins was over, so while I was shopping myself to teams all over, the Phoenix offer came up and I decided it was a good one. Once I found out that Sean was also on the team, it just added to what I already thought was a great situation for me to begin my pro career.”

WATCH: Jeff Dirkin's college highlight reel

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Tragic loss

But the excitement of moving overseas to start a new chapter has been dampened for Dirkin following the tragic death of his Rollins College team-mate Chris Uhle last week. Uhle was out in Atlanta preparing to begin his own professional basketball odyssey in Japan after signing on with Saitama Broncos for the forthcoming season. He suffered a fatal heart attack at just 22-years-old. It was a hammer blow to Dirkin and has caused him to reflect differently on the college years he leaves behind.

“My Rollins team-mate and close friend, Chris Uhle, passed away recently just before he was meant to go play for a professional club in Japan, so I have been reflecting on my college career and time with my team-mates a lot in the last few days,” said Dirkin. “In short, I loved every minute of it.

“I had the honour of playing for Coach Tom Klusman who is a wonderful person who loves his players like his own kids. Rollins recruits really great guys who are fun to be around and I cherish every moment I have had with them.

“I developed a lot as a player and as a human being during my time at Rollins, and while this may read as an ad for the NCAA, I really had the a great college experience being part of a team, the greater athlete community, and getting a great education during the process.”

Jeff Dirkin, left, with Rollins team-mate Chris Uhle, who tragically passed away last week
Jeff Dirkin, left, with Rollins team-mate Chris Uhle, who tragically passed away last week

Phoenix ambitions

And what of on-court matters with the Phoenix this season? The transition from college hoops to the pro game isn't always easy, but Dirkin, who is keen to engage with the club's community ethos, is hopeful he can show the Cheshire faithful what he is made of.

“First off, I am excited that part of playing with Cheshire is being involved in the community and coaching younger players,” he said. “This is something I have done since high school in different capacities and I look forward to having that opportunity again.

“My biggest challenge will probably be adjusting from the unusual system I played in college, that being: all zone defence and Princeton style offence.

“At Rollins I was very efficient and known for being a good defender and playing with a lot of energy. I know I can bring those qualities to Cheshire in the coming season. I aim to shoot 3s at a good percentage, work off pick and rolls and pick and pops, and get out and run the floor in transition.”

Dirkin and his team-mates will link up in early September to begin preparations for the new BBL season, which kicks off at Leeds Force on Friday, September 18 (7.30pm).