When I initially arrived in Florence I thought that I was going to work with a professional basketball team. But there was one huge problem that deterred me from attaining this goal. The problem was that I had never studied Italian before, and therefore was not capable of working with a professional team. But I think that this honestly worked out very well for me. After a month of studying the language I began my “coaching internship” with two different developmental teams. The players on these teams range from the ages of 14 to 17 years old.
At first I felt a little let down because I had such great expectations of working with a professional team. But I thought to myself, “James, you are in Florence and have a great opportunity to learn about a different language and culture while earning credits towards your degree at the University at Buffalo, and having the opportunity to work with players during the most crucial period in their young basketball careers.” So I made the most of the situation and I honestly could not be any happier.
I attend school Monday through Friday from 9 am until 12:30 pm. After school I have lunch and then take the bus to practice about 4 times a week. The head coach of the team, Lapo Falvoti, is a very nice individual who thankfully speaks Italian and English. The first few practices were very frustrating for me because I was still new to the language and I often scratched my head and asked myself, “What is the point of these drills.” But, I knew that I was new to the team and the European style of basketball. So I helped out in the drills and did whatever the head coach asked me to do. After a few practices things started to look up. Once the coach became aware that I had a pretty vast knowledge of basketball, he began to let me have more input on practices and games. This was a huge turning point in my internship because it allowed me to utilize all of the talent and knowledge I have gained throughout the years from both playing and coaching. I was finally able to show the players and coaching staff different aspects of the game of basketball that they have not really seen or experienced. Basketball is fairly new in Italy and is beginning to gain popularity. The European style of this sport is very different from that of the United States.
This style includes drills in practice, offensive and defensive formations, and in general the manner in which the game is played. But I realized that I am not Michael Jordan or Phil Jackson; I still have a lot to learn in my youthful coaching career. Before I arrived in Italy I did a lot of research and read a lot of articles on the differences between the two styles of the game. It is very clear that American players are better in certain aspects of the game, but it is quite foolish to think that everything we do is better.
“The players on this team ranged
from the ages of 14 to 17 years old”
Basketball is continuously changing as many European players are beginning to dominate in the NBA, so they must be doing something right. I feel that coaching the European style of basketball has given me the greatest opportunity in my youthful career. I have not only been able to teach the players and the coaching staff about the style of the game in the United States, but more importantly they have taught me a lot about the European style of the game. This diverse knowledge has completely changed my approach to the game of basketball both as a player and a coach. My new philosophy toward the game of basketball is to take the best of both worlds and combine the two styles of the game into one cohesive style.
Last weekend we had a very important playoff game with one of the teams. The team that we played had beaten us by 15 points two weeks prior to this game. I was unfortunately unable to attend the game that we lost to this team. But last Saturday was a new day and a new game. The first half of the game was very close and we went into halftime down by 2 points. In the locker room the head coach asked me what I thought we should do differently in the second half.
“The European style of this sport is very different”
I will not bore you with basketball terminology, but I basically told him that we needed to pressure the other team and play man to man defense. I thought that this would catch the other team off guard because most teams in Europe tend to play zone defense. I told the coach and the team that they needed to put pressure on the opposing team and “stay in their faces” on defense. The coach put his trust in me and told the team to play man to man defense in the second half. The coach gave me the clipboard and I explained to the players what they had to do. This had an immediate impact on the game as we went up by 10 points within 5 minutes. We ended up winning the game by 22 points against the highly favored opposition. That night the Buffalo Sabres, my home hockey team, were defeated in the playoffs. For once in my life I did not care. I was so exhilarated that I was able to make a contribution to the team’s win. After the game the coach told the players that I was leaving the following week to travel around Europe. The players were absolutely crushed and said that they need me to be there for the semi-finals and finals of the playoffs which take place on the 3rd and 4th of June. That night I tossed and turned in bed and did not get one wink of sleep. The following day I called the coach and told him that I had cancelled my plans to travel around Europe. I simply can not leave these kids high and dry. They have worked so hard in practice and have come so far since I first worked with them in March. The coach and the team are thrilled about my decision to stay. I just hope that I will be able to contribute as much to their semi-final and championship game as I contributed in the previous game.
When I first thought about studying abroad I read numerous pamphlets for programs provided by several different schools. But one pamphlet stood out to me more than any other. This brochure was sponsored by my university and advertised a study abroad program that claimed to be different from the rest. I remember reading about the various internship programs being offered for the spring semester. This pamphlet seemed to say all of the predictable things that any other typical study abroad program says. But as I continued to read I stumbled upon a statement that ultimately caused me to apply for this internship. This phrase not only “sealed the deal” on which program to choose; but it has honestly “held true” throughout this whole semester. The phrase described how the internship program was different from any other study abroad program because it will provide the student with the most “unique opportunity” of their life. My university has not only lived up to this high expectation, but has somehow surpassed it in so many ways that I can not even describe.
I can not express how thankful I am for the opportunity to have this “unique” experience that has completely changed who I am and who I will eventually be.