Imagine youself chilling at the beach on a large and comfortable sunbed. Then, one minute later, imagine that same sunbed, which had looked so big and comfortable to you, with a 7 foot guy trying to squeeze himself onto it – now it looks like the tiniest sunbed of all. That is exactly how I met Andrea Bargnani this summer.
Andrea was born in Rome and is one of only 3 Italians who play in the NBA. He is also the only European player ever to be first pick in the first round of the draft. Currently Captain of the Toronto Raptors, during his first two seasons with the team he helped them reach the NBA playoffs and win the Atlantic Division title in 2006/2007.
Why did you begin playing basketball ? Isn’t soccer the most popular sport in Italy ?
Yes, indeed it is. When I was a child all of my friends used to play soccer and, just like every kid in the world, I wanted to do what my friends did. However, because of my height, my Mom wanted me to try basketball. Even though I refused at first, when I was 11 I ended up playing with my Uncle (my Mom’s brother) who used to be a basketball player, but I never thought basketball would end up becoming my career.
When I turned 14 I became a professional player for Rome’s Stella Azzurra. At 17 I left home to play for Benetton Treviso, which used to be the top Italian team. That was also when I started playing for the national team and I’ve been playing for it ever since.
How did you feel about leaving Italy for your career ? What do you miss the most about Italy ?
Leaving home is always difficult, even though I had left home at an early age and was used to living without my family. Going overseas has been a very tough experience. In my house in Toronto I have plenty of pictures of Rome, they make me feel more at home and I often cook myself a good plate of pasta just like my mother used to. Nonetheless, I was lucky that when I left it all went well…
…Not just well, you are the only European ever selected as a first choice in the Draft!
Yes, that really has been a turning point not only for my career, but for my whole life. Playing in the NBA is a big honor. Whether I was playing against them or with them, I got to meet all of the players I used to worship when I was younger! It was like a dream come true. However, as in any dream, this one had a price to pay on the other side: I found the training really hard and it wasn’t easy to compete with NBA players. As I said I was suddenly competing with my teenage idols…
The 15th of February is the deadline for the Raptors to decide which team you are going to play for, what would be your personal choice if you could choose the team you played for?
I really don’t know. I mean, this isn’t a decision I have to make myself. Toronto has become my home now and I love playing for the Raptors. The only thing I know is I’ve been away for long, too long, and as soon as my career is over my place is back home, in Italy.