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Italian Globetrotter : A Year After Spurning Indiana to Play Overseas, Marcaccini Returns to L.A.

TIMES PREP SPORTS EDITOR

Bobby Knight is probably still second-guessing his decision to offer Monte Marcaccini a basketball scholarship.

A week before he was to report to Indiana last August, Marcaccini decided to play in Italy.

The Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High graduate waited until he was in Rome to tell Knight.

“That was the toughest phone call I ever had to make,” Marcaccini recalls. “Here I was an 18-year-old kid telling one of the most respected coaches in the game that I wasn’t going to take his scholarship after all. I didn’t know how he was going to react.”

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Marcaccini said Knight was “understanding” and wished him the best, although the Indiana coach has publicly commented very little on the matter.

After spending 10 months playing for the Benetton junior club team in Treviso outside of Venice, Marcaccini returned home to the San Fernando Valley this summer in search of a scholarship. Coaches from USC, Arizona, Utah and UNLV, among others, have expressed interest, but Knight has not.

Tony Fuller, Pepperdine’s new coach, said he has never heard of a top college player leaving the country and then returning. That did not stop him from pursuing Marcaccini, however, who is expected to sign with the Waves this month.

How long Marcaccini will stick around is anyone’s guess. He said his goal is to earn a degree and to play in the NBA. If that does not happen, he will return to Italy.

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Marcaccini, 19, was born in Santa Monica but grew up in Rome. His father, Giancarlo, is an international businessman specializing in imports and a native Italian. His mother, Alicia, grew up in Southern California.

Until he was in the eighth grade, Marcaccini concentrated his athletic endeavors in swimming and he was one of the top juniors in Italy. It was not until the family relocated to Tarzana in 1988 that Marcaccini started playing basketball.

“I used to watch basketball on television,” he said. “When I finally got the chance to play, it became an obsession.”

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To make up for lost time, Marcaccini practiced before and after school. It helped that his older brother, Giancarlo Jr., was already a top player at Notre Dame High, a co-ed parochial school. But Monte, the middle of three boys in the family, wanted to establish his own identity.

Things began coming together his junior season when he averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds a game, even though Notre Dame struggled to a 10-15 record and was eliminated in the first round of the Southern Section playoffs.

College coaches had shown limited interest in Marcaccini to that point, but that began changing in the summer of 1992 when he had several impressive performances with a local traveling team. Recruiters rely heavily on summer leagues and all-star games to evaluate talent, and Marcaccini made the most of the opportunity.

By the end of the summer, Marcaccini, a 6-foot-5 1/2, 200-pound swingman, had received letters from more than 50 Division I colleges. The phone began ringing off the hook, with coaches from such schools as UCLA, Utah and Virginia calling regularly.

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When Utah Coach Rick Majerus ran out of scholarships, he told Knight, a longtime friend, about a top prospect he had seen from Southern California. A week later, Marcaccini sent Knight a highlight film and, shortly thereafter, visited Indiana.

“I knew from the moment I stepped on that campus that I wanted to go to school there,” Marcaccini said. “It was so beautiful, and you could feel the basketball tradition everywhere. A year earlier, no one even knew who I was, and now I was being offered a scholarship to Indiana. It was too much too pass up.”

Taking advantage of the early signing period in November turned out to be a blessing. A month into his senior season, Marcaccini began suffering from tendinitis in both knees and found it difficult to stand or run for long periods of time.

The pain became so bad that Marcaccini hardly practiced, saving his energy for games. He led the team in scoring and rebounding, and the Knights went on to win the section’s Division III-A title.

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Several weeks after the championship, Marcaccini played in an all-star game in Indianapolis and met several of his new coaches.

But in the ensuing months, he began considering a return to Italy. The country’s professional basketball league was growing in popularity, and Marcaccini knew it would become increasingly difficult to secure a card that would allow him to join one of the teams.

Marcaccini has dual citizenship since his father has maintained a home in Rome, which eased the restrictions he would have faced trying to join the league as a foreigner. His decision was made easier after his brother signed with Benetton in July of 1993.

Days before he was to report to Indiana, Marcaccini boarded a plane for Italy. He immediately began practicing with one of Benetton’s developmental squads made up of players 20 years and younger. Although the club provided housing and meals, Marcaccini received no salary, safeguarding his amateur status in the United States.

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Benetton is one of the top clubs in Italy and the richest. Former Clipper Winston Garland is on the team, as was Rafael Addison, who signed with Detroit last month. Both made salaries reportedly in the half-million dollar range.

“I didn’t play in the professional games, but I certainly practiced against the pros everyday,” Marcaccini said. “For four hours a day six days a week I went up against these guys, and I can’t tell you how much tougher and better I am than I was last year at this time.”

Marcaccini, whose knees are now healed, said it was frustrating at times because the fans do not understand the game well. When he shattered the backboard on two different occasions, he said the crowd became upset because of the subsequent delays.

When the season ended after the junior championship in June, Marcaccini went to the Rome airport without a ticket and asked for the first available flight to Los Angeles. He got stuck in the smoking section but said he was glad to be heading home.

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Marcaccini said he spent most of his time with older players and missed being around his peers and friends. He said the year away made him lonely.

“I had my reservations about Monte leaving in the first place,” his mother said “I can’t tell you how happy I am that he’s back.”

Giancarlo Jr. also left Italy this summer and is hoping to secure a scholarship by the end of the month.

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Things have been hectic the last two months. Marcaccini has been getting reacquainted with family and friends. He joined the Southern California College Summer League made up of area players, and his teammates included UCLA-bound Toby Bailey and J.R. Henderson. The team, nicknamed “Blue Chip,” won the league championship game Aug. 7 at Trade Tech College.

“Monte certainly has improved his skills in the past year,” said Ken Krofft, Blue Chip’s coach. “But the thing I noticed the most is how much he’s matured off the court. He left a kid and came back a man. He brings that change onto the court.”

Although it is rare for a school to offer a scholarship in the summer since most have been given out by April, Marcaccini said his phone has been ringing nonstop. The recruiting pressures have started again.

In addition, he has had to worry about the health of his father, who suffers from lung cancer and recently had a lung removed in a Paris hospital.

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“My father won’t be coming home for a while because of his condition, but when he does return I want to be near him,” Marcaccini said. “Attending a college close to home is certainly a priority.”

If he signs with Pepperdine, Marcaccini is expected to play right away since the Waves graduated four starters.

“I’ll probably be one of the main guys there,” he said. “It’s a role I’m definitely ready for.”


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