EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State freshman Erazem Lorbek had more trouble adjusting to sarcasm and hip-hop lingo than to jumpshots and defense.
The Slovenia native feels at home now, but last fall he struggled with bouts of homesickness.
"I had problems adjusting to the differences and being away from family," Lorbek said.
Lorbek is one of many players in the NCAA Tournament who had to get used to a new way of life in the United States. Many of the teams feature players from other countries, a trend also evident in the NBA.
Besides Lorbek, they include Wisconsin's Kirk Penney of New Zealand, Pittsburgh's Donatas Zavackas of Lithuania and Texas' Sydmill Harris of the Netherlands.
In the tournament, Lorbek has a team-leading 29 points and 12 rebounds; Penney has averaged 13.5 points, seven rebounds and 4.5 assists; Zavackas has contributed nine points, five rebounds and three assists a game; and Harris has scored 17.
While growing up in New Zealand, Penney used to wake up at 5 a.m. to watch regular-season games, but he wasn't able to watch the NCAA Tournament. Interest in basketball is growing in his homeland, he said, but it's not one of the major sports.
"Rugby and cricket dominate the scene, for sure," Penney said Wednesday. "I played the other sports: rugby, cricket and so on. I just kind of loved ball and just had my hoop at home and seemed to dedicate more time to it."
Lorbek is a primary reason the seventh-seeded Spartans dominated Florida and Colorado, advancing to the Sweet 16 to face defending national champion and sixth-seeded Maryland on Friday in San Antonio.
The 6-foot-10, 240-pound Lorbek was recruited by Illinois, UCLA and Georgia, but Tom Izzo was the only head coach to visit the MVP from the 2002 European Championship for Juniors in his hometown of Ljubljana, Slovenia.
"He's versatile," Izzo said of his first foreign recruit. "He can shoot the 3, he's a good passer and he's a surprisingly good defensive player because he picks up on things quick."
The likable, lanky Lorbek was not so smooth when it came to picking up on slang, jokes and phrases his teammates would repeat from rap songs.
"My teammates would say, 'What's up, dog?' I would laugh," Lorbek said. "I mean, why 'dog'?"
Michigan State's Alan Anderson, who is from Minneapolis, appeared tired of hearing many of the same questions about the tournament Tuesday. But when Lorbek's name was mentioned, his eyes lit up and he was eager to talk.
"I love him, man," Anderson said. "I had never been around anybody from a foreign country so I love being around 'Raz.' His personality is special. His game is special. Everything about him is special."
Lorbek's teammates laugh uncontrollably when he repeats phrases such as "Holla at your boy" -- a phase from a Jay-Z song -- and when he does impressions of Izzo.
When asked what "Holla at your boy" meant, Lorbek said: "It's like, 'Hello'."
Other non-American-born players still in the tournament include: Syracuse's Kueth Duany (Sudan); Kentucky's Jules Camara (Senegal) and Bernad Cote (Canada); Wisconsin's Andreas Helmigk (Austria); Pittsburgh's Levon Kendall (Canada); UConn's Denham Brown (Canada) and Justin Brown (Australia); Notre Dame's Tom Timmermans (Netherlands) and Jere Macura (Croatia); Oklahoma's Jozsef Szendrei (Hungary) and Kansas' Moulaye Niang (Senegal).