Senior NBA Draft Analyst Matt Babcock shares his experience moving to Bologna, Italy, where he worked as an assistant coach on a professional basketball team before becoming a sports agent. Watch Part 1 on how he got his start and Part 2 on helping players prepare for the 2006 NBA Draft.
It was 2006, I was 22 years old and about to start my first full-time post-college job as an assistant coach with Virtus Bologna, a professional basketball team in Bologna, Italy. Before leaving for Europe, I stayed at my parents’ house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I got my travel itinerary in an email, so I packed all my things, bought a couple of Italian phrasebooks, and hugged my mom. Then my dad took me to Chicago for a flight, and before I knew it, I was already in Italy.
After a long journey, I reached Bologna. Before landing, I was not given details of my preparations. I knew that I would be an assistant coach and that the team would cover all my expenses, but I did not know where I would live. I didn’t even know if someone would meet me at the airport. I didn’t have any contact information from the team. To say that an unknown world awaited me would be a significant understatement. I was a little worried.
I got off the plane and went to the baggage claim area. I was hoping to see a driver with a big sign with my name on it, but I didn’t see anyone like that. I gathered my two massive bags, which contained almost everything I had at the time, sat down and waited, hoping that someone from the team would come to pick me up. I was exhausted and the longer I waited, the more worried I got. I started thinking, “Did I make a mistake by coming here?”
Finally a man came up to me and said in a thick Italian accent, “Matt?”
I felt as if I had been rescued from a desert island.
The man pointed to the logo on his shirt that read “Virtus Bologna”. It was obvious that he did not speak English. I didn’t speak Italian at all, so I’m sure you can imagine how it all happened. We shook hands and he told me to follow him to his car, which appeared to be the team van. After about twenty minutes of driving, without exchanging a word, we arrived at a small hotel. The receptionist translated for us as we entered the hotel, which was a huge relief. She explained that the team was on the way, but someone would contact me on the hotel phone the next day. (I did not use a mobile phone as international roaming charges were high at the time.)
I was exhausted but also hungry so I asked the receptionist if any restaurants would be serving food at that time. She directed me to a place nearby. I entered the restaurant and no one spoke English very well. I sat down at the table with my Italian phrasebook in hand. I ordered a pizza and a glass of red wine – after all, I was in Italy. After a long day and night, I am tired and stressed. Being a young guy all alone in a foreign country was difficult. The language barrier was difficult and everything unknown was unnerving. I asked again if I had made the right decision in accepting this job. However, the waitress brought me a pizza and a glass of red wine, and let me tell you, they were probably the best things I have ever tasted in my entire life! Subsequently, my stress subsided a little, and although I still did not know what to expect next, I was able to relax and appreciate the opportunity.
The next day I woke up around 3:00 am due to jet lag. After several hours of the murder, I got a call on the hotel phone from a man named Daniele Cavicchi. He introduced himself in a thick Italian accent, saying that he was the assistant head coach of the team (before I arrived, there was only one). He told me that they were happy to receive me and that he would pick me up in a few hours. He explained that the team had a day off, but I would meet with the head coach and general manager.
When Daniele picked me up, I immediately liked him and thought he was a good guy. Although he was older than me, maybe in his 20s, he was a relatively young coach. So he naturally became my “long-term boyfriend” while I was there. Anyway, we got into his car and drove to the training base. He told me that he was from Bologna and would show me the city. As we drove, he told me about the area like a tour guide. Daniele explained that it was essentially a college town with the oldest university in the world, founded in 1088. He went on to explain that in Italy, a country known for its food and wine, this particular region was the best and even the home of bolognese sauce. It was dark the night before when I arrived, so during the trip with Daniele, I realized that Bologna is an unusual place with a rich culture and history. The more he described the city, and the more I saw it, the more I enjoyed being there. I couldn’t believe that this was where I would live. It was like a dream.
When we arrived at the team’s office, my first meeting was with the team’s head coach, Zare Markovski. A stylish gentleman from Macedonia, he was a veteran coach who seemed to coach almost everywhere at some point in his career. Our first meeting was short as he just greeted me. However, despite the fact that we dated him for a short time, I found him a charming guy.
My second meeting was with CEO Piergiorgio Bottay, a businessman from Roma. After meeting him, it was obvious from his enthusiasm that he was the main reason I was there. He laid out his vision for me and laid out the details of my activities during my stay. He told me that I would be an assistant coach and my main responsibility would be the individual development of their players. They also wanted me to supervise the youth team’s training sessions with an interpreter from time to time. He went on to tell me that they had an apartment for me in the “city center”, which also happened to be in the same building as the team owner. I will have access to a good restaurant and I will be able to eat there whenever I want, order whatever I want and always put it on the team’s account. He then explained that Mercedes-Benz was sponsoring the team, so the players and staff, including me, were given free cars. It was obvious that the team intended to take very good care of me while I was there.
After my meetings, Daniele brought me downstairs to give me all the equipment issued by the team: team jacket, polo, t-shirts, etc. I felt like part of the team and everyone was very welcoming.
After leaving the training complex, Daniele and I had a great dinner at the team restaurant, and then I settled in my apartment. It was “perfetto”. The next day was my first day of training, where I was to be introduced to the team as their new assistant coach. Even though it was a hectic few days and I was nearly 5,000 miles from home, I went to bed that night with my mind at ease. Everything was “molto bene!”