ORONO — When Dor Saar, the University of Maine’s all-America East point guard, was introduced to then-recruit Anne Simon, Saar thought she looked familiar.

“It was the Under-18 European championship. I remember playing against her. Whenever she came here on a visit, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I think I played against you,'” Saar recalled Tuesday morning after a team film session.

It was a few years ago, Saar said, when she played for Team Israel and Simon, a guard, played for Team Luxembourg. Saar said she couldn’t remember specifics about the game, other than Israel won, but she remembered Simon.

“Anne is a really talented player, and I’m thankful to have her on my team,” Saar said.

Simon remembered Saar, too.

“Now playing with her, it’s just fun. She was good. She was like she is now, just good,” Simon said.

Last week, Simon was named America East conference Rookie of the Year, the second Maine player in three seasons (Saar the other in 2018) to win the honor. The freshman from Sandweiler, Luxembourg, quickly became a key player for the Black Bears, helping the team overcome numerous injuries, including the losses of Blanca Millan, the reigning conference Player of the Year, and starting forward Fanny Wadling.

Down to just eight healthy players, Maine is scheduled to play at Stony Brook for the America East championship at 5 p.m. Friday. Simon, who averages 13 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, figures to be a key factor for the Black Bears. During Maine’s current 10-game win streak, which includes victories over Vermont and UMass-Lowell in the conference tournament, Simon has been at her best, averaging 17.5 points and 6.9 boards per game.

“Anne’s been great this season. It’s been really fun to watch. Her confidence has grown so much throughout the season. She’s turned into one of our main threats on offense. She’s a great driver, and it’s great to see her confidence in her own drive. She can take anybody,” Maine junior Maeve Carroll said.

Simon’s 21-point effort in Sunday’s 67-54 win over UMass-Lowell was her sixth 20-plus point game of the season, and fourth in her last 10 games. Over the last 10 games, Simon shot just under 50 percent from the field (48.9 percent, 65 for 133), a slight uptick from her season shooting percentage of .469.

“I think I gained more confidence in myself. I kind of knew I needed to step up to help the team. Attack the rim and hit the shots I need to,” Simon said.

“She’s been really impressive. Somebody asked me (Monday), did you know she was going to be this good? Honestly, you never know with freshmen. You never know how they’re going to grow,” said Maine Coach Amy Vachon. “What we really like about her was how versatile she was. She seemed to just fill the stat sheet up in any game, points, rebounds, assists, steals. She was really active. Then when I watched her play in Luxembourg, just how tough she was. She’s smart. What we run offensively, and our defensive game plan, aren’t easy. She really picked things up quickly.”

With a population of just over 600,000, Luxembourg is not one of Europe’s basketball hotbeds.

“Basketball is not the most common sport. There are not a lot of fans there. When we have games, it’s every weekend,” Simon said. “It’s fun. We obviously don’t have a lot of players for a national team, but it’s always fun to play with each other because we all know each other. Most of them go to the same high school. That’s why we’re all so close to each other. Competing against other countries is just fun.”

Simon drew Vachon’s attention while playing for the Luxembourg National Team, of which she was a three-year captain.

“You go to those tournaments, and Luxembourg isn’t a country that you watch. You go to watch Spain. You go to watch France. Those are the countries people typically watch. Her team wasn’t great. They’re going against these powerhouse countries,” Vachon said. “To be fair, I didn’t go to watch her play. She wasn’t a kid that I was like, I’ve gotta watch. She was a kid we knew of, and watching her more and more, then getting to know her and her family and coach, I knew this is where she should be.”

Simon has played in 31 of Maine’s 32 games this season, starting 29. With the Black Bears down to eight healthy players, Simon’s minutes have increased along with those of the other four starters. The only reason Simon left the court in Sunday’s win was because she fouled out with just over a minute to play.

“I wasn’t expecting it, to be honest. I think as a freshman you never expect 35 minutes (per game), but I really like it and I took it as a challenge. I really like challenges,” Simon said.

Vachon isn’t sure if being forced into more action accelerated Simon’s development or not.

“It’s hard to tell. I think she probably would be playing a lot. We saw she was very talented. We knew she could help us. Would she be playing 40 minutes a game? Probably not. She’s had to do different things. She’s guarding post players right now. She’s not a post. She’s embraced that, and just like all of our kids hasn’t complained and done what our team needs to do to win,” Vachon said.

Saar said she knew Simon would fit in and help the Black Bears immediately.

“(Simon) has grown so much. Something I really like about her is from the beginning, she was really confident, really sure about her abilities and the way she plays,” Saar said.

Playing for a college in the United States was a long-term goal for Simon, who said she had not been to Maine until she visited UMaine on a recruiting trip.

When she described Maine to friends and family back home, Simon describes it as similar to Luxembourg, small population with similar weather. Simon speaks four languages, growing up with Luxembourgish, and learning German, French and English in school. She occasionally speaks German with teammate Kira Barra, a native of Dillingen, Germany.

“I definitely improved my English here, but I was confident because I knew I could talk,” Simon said. “I took Spanish here one semester. It’s not like I’m fluent in Spanish, but I know the basic stuff. I’m never talking in Spanish to Blanca.”

Simon’s greatest strength throughout this freshman season has been her consistency, Vachon said. Simon’s droughts can be measured by the quarter or half, not by stretches of games. One thing Simon does need to improve is her turnover rate. Simon averages around 2.5 turnovers per game. That will improve with experience, Vachon said.

“She’d be the first to tell you, she’s still learning the game. Learning what she can and can’t do. Most of them are aggressive turnovers. Most of them are trying to drive to the basket, that kind of thing. That’s definitely an area we’d like to see improve,” Vachon said.

Simon is good and getting better. That helped Maine avoid what, with the injuries, could have been a lost season, and has the Black Bears in the conference final for the fifth straight season.

Comments are not available on this story.