Matt Babcock shares his experience of moving to Bologna, Italy to become an assistant coach of a professional basketball team prior to becoming a sports agent.
It was 2006, I was 22-years old, and I was set to begin my first full-time job out of college as an assistant coach for the professional basketball team, Virtus Bologna, in Bologna, Italy. Prior to leaving for Europe, I was staying at my parents’ house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had received my travel itinerary via email so I packed up all of my stuff, purchased a couple of Italian phrasebooks, and gave my mom a kiss. My dad drove me down to Chicago for my flight and before I knew it, I was off to Italy.
After a long travel day, I made it to my final destination: Bologna, Italy. I had not been briefed on any details before landing, other than I was going to be an assistant coach, and all of my expenses would be covered. I didn’t know where I was going to be living or if anyone was picking me up. I didn’t have anyone’s contact info from the team and I had planned not to use my cell phone during my stay in Italy anyway, as long-distance and roaming charges at the time were astronomical. To say an unknown world awaited me would be a huge understatement. Needless to say, I was a bit anxious.
I exited the plane and made my way to the baggage claim. I had hoped to see a driver holding a big sign with my name on it. However, I did not see anyone like that. I collected my two massive bags that contained pretty much everything I owned at that point, took a seat, and waited, hoping someone from the team was coming to pick me up. I was exhausted and began to become increasingly anxious the longer I waited. I thought to myself, “Did I make a mistake coming here?”
Finally, a man approached me and said with a thick Italian accent: “Matt?” Although admittedly overdramatic, I felt as if I had been rescued from a deserted island.
The man pointed to a logo on his shirt that said “Virtus Bologna”. It was quickly evident he did not speak English. I didn’t speak any Italian, so I’m sure you can imagine how everything carried on — it was rough. We shook hands and he directed me to follow him. We got to his car which was seemingly a team-issued van. After about a twenty-minute drive and no words exchanged, we arrived at a small hotel. When we walked into the hotel, a receptionist translated for us, which was a huge relief. She explained that the team was on the road but someone would reach out to me on the hotel phone the next day.
I was extremely exhausted but also starving. I asked the receptionist if there were any restaurants that would be serving food at that hour. She directed me to a place nearby. I walked into the restaurant and no one spoke English very well. I sat down at a table with my Italian phrasebook in hand. I ordered a pizza and a glass of red wine — I was in Italy after all. After a long day and night, I was tired and stressed. Having been a young guy on my own in a foreign country was difficult, the language barrier was hard, and all of the unknown was scary. I again questioned if I had made the right decision accepting that job. However, the waitress brought out my pizza and glass of red wine, and let me tell you, they were perhaps the best things I had ever tasted in my entire life! Subsequently, my stress subsided a bit and, although I still didn’t really know what to expect next, I was able to relax and appreciate where I was and the unique opportunity that had been given to me.
The next morning, I woke up at about 3 am because of jet lag. After hours of killing time, a man named Daniele Cavicchi called me on the hotel phone. In a thick Italian accent, he introduced himself, saying he was the assistant coach of the team (there was only one before I came). He told me they were happy to have me and that he would pick me up in a few hours. He explained that the team had the day off but I would meet with the head coach and general manager.
When Daniele picked me up I instantly liked him and thought he was a nice guy. Although he was older than I was, maybe in his late 20’s, he was a relatively young coach too. He naturally became my “go-to guy” while I was there. Anyway, we got into his car and we were off to the practice facility. He told me that he was originally from Bologna and he would show me around the town. As we drove he gave me “the lay of the land”, similar to a tour guide. Daniele explained to me that it was essentially a college town, with the university being the oldest in the world, established in 1088. He continued to explain that within Italy, a country that is known for its food and wine, that specific region was the best, and even the home of bolognese sauce. It had been dark the night before when I had arrived so that car ride was when I began to realize that Bologna was a very special place, rich in culture and history. The more he described the city and the more I saw the more excited I became to be there — I couldn’t believe that was where I would be living!
When we arrived at the team’s offices, my first meeting was with the head coach of the team, Zare Markowski. A classy gentleman from Macedonia, he was a veteran coach that seemed to have coached nearly everywhere at some point or another. Our initial meeting was brief as he pretty much just welcomed me. Despite only meeting with him briefly, I found him to be a charming and pleasant man.
My second meeting was with the general manager, Piergiorgio Bottai, a businessman from “Roma”. Quickly after meeting him, it was apparent from his enthusiasm that he was the main reason I was there. He outlined the vision he had for me and laid out the details of my arrangements during my stay. He told me I would be an assistant coach and my primary responsibility was to develop their players individually. They also wanted me to direct the youth team’s practices occasionally, with Daniele being my translator. He continued to tell me that they had an apartment for me which would be in the “city centre” — which also happened to be in the same building that the team owner lived in. I would have access to a nice restaurant and I could eat there whenever I’d like, order whatever I’d like, and always put it on the team’s tab. He then explained that the team was sponsored by Mercedes-Benz and players and staff members were given courtesy cars, myself included. It was very clear that the team had intended to take great care of me while I was there.
Following my meetings, Daniele brought me downstairs to give me all of the team issued gear: a team jacket, polos, t-shirts, etc. I was really beginning to feel part of the team and it felt great — everyone was very welcoming!
After leaving the practice facility, Daniele and I had a great dinner at the team restaurant and I settled into my apartment afterward — which was "perfetto." That next morning would be my first day of practice and I would be introduced to the team as their new assistant coach. Although it had been a hectic couple of days and I was nearly five-thousand miles from home, I went to sleep that night with my mind at ease. Everything was “molto bene!”