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Newport Harbor High graduate Luca Cupido banking on success in Tokyo

Luca Cupido, an attacker for the U.S. Olympic men's water polo team, is a graduate of Newport Harbor High School.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Many water polo teams have banked on Luca Cupido’s talent over the years, from Newport Harbor High School to Cal to the United States men’s national team.

Now, at the age of 25, Cupido has become a banker himself.

Cupido said he began working for Bank of America about a year ago, as an investment banker.

Keep in mind, that was supposed to be just when he was gearing up for his second straight Olympic Games in Tokyo, before they were postponed.

“I was practicing two or three times a week, just to try to stay in shape and see what happens,” Cupido said. “I didn’t know if I was going to play again. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Cupido said the company gave him five months off for the Olympics. This March, he went back to his native Italy for a couple of months, playing for the RN Camogli club he grew up with.

The investment that Team USA has made in Cupido is clear. He was selected to play in Tokyo and is a talented weapon for Coach Dejan Udovicic’s club, which begins play in the rescheduled Olympics against host Japan on July 25.

Cupido, who scored two goals in helping the U.S. achieve a silver medal at the FINA World League Super Final last month in Tiblisi, Georgia, admits it has been an exercise in patience getting back into form.

“I was practicing, but doing a lot of work too,” said Cupido, who now lives in Los Angeles. “So I didn’t have consistent practices for a full year. It was a little bit of a challenge the first month and a half to get back. Still now, I’m trying to get the rhythm, but I’m happy with where I’m at given all of the circumstances.”

Cupido has been known for having a flair for the dramatic in his playing career. He moved from Italy to Newport Beach as a senior in high school and earned 2013 Daily Pilot Dream Team Boys’ Water Polo Player of the Year honors.

Perhaps his signature play that season was a penalty shot, where he lobbed the ball over 6-foot-7 Mater Dei High goalie McQuin Baron for the score. Baron later joined Cupido on the 2016 Olympic team.

Cupido went on to star at Cal. He was the 2017 Cutino Award winner as the nation’s top collegiate player, a year after helping the Golden Bears win the NCAA title.

Cupido, an attacker, also has scored multiple buzzer-beaters for Team USA over the years.

Luca Cupido shoots the ball during practice for the U.S. Olympic men's water polo team on July 8 at Sage Hill School.
Attacker Luca Cupido shoots the ball during practice for the U.S. Olympic men’s water polo team on July 8 at Sage Hill School in Newport Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“It’s been true,” Cupido said of his big-moment performances. “On this team, I maybe have a little bit different role. Maybe in that situation at the end, when it’s going to be clutch time, I still think I’ll be taking the shot. But overall, during the game, I see myself more as a facilitator, especially after being off for a long time. My mindset now is that I’ll do whatever it takes. If I have to give up some of my shots for us to win, I’m happy with it. But of course, I’d love to take that shot at the end when it matters, for sure.”

Cupido has the Olympic rings tattooed on the inside of his right bicep, so it’s clear how much going back means to him. The return offers a chance for improvement after Team USA finished in a disappointing 10th place in 2016.

Udovicic sees Cupido, one of five returning Olympians, as a key player if the U.S. is going to challenge for the medal stand for the first time since 2008.

“I trust Luca,” Udovicic said. “He’s one of our leaders, for sure … He’s our strength, because he’s one of the guys that can play several positions, and not just as a backup. It doesn’t matter which position he’s going to play; he can play that position at a high level as his main position. We are using him at several positions to free more players, and I think that’s a strength of this team.”

The pandemic continues to impact things. It was announced last week that there would be no fans at Olympic events. On Wednesday, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said that athletes will hang medals around their own necks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Of course, Cupido would be more than happy to do so.

“I just want to compete,” he said. “It’s been a long wait. Let’s just go in there and do our best. There’s not going to be the outside distraction that will normally be there, but at the end of the day, we’re there to compete in our sport. If there’s not all the nightlife that comes with it, so be it.

“I’m there to win a medal.”

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