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Gardelli comes to McNary from Italy
By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
Riccardo Gardelli had played basketball on a club team in Varese, Italy for 10 years.
But he had to start from scratch when he decided to come to McNary as an exchange student.
“It was like starting from zero,” said Gardelli, who came to America in August through Cultural Homestay International.
While Gardelli wanted to travel the world and meet new people, his main reason for coming to the U.S. was to get better at basketball.
He didn’t know where in the country he would end up.
“I was lucky because there are exchange students who go to America and go to a place where nobody is there,” Gardelli said. “Keizer is a good city with a big school. Right now I feel very good right here. McNary is a really good program and people.”
Gardelli began playing club basketball when he was 7 years old for Pallacanestro Varese, the professional team in his hometown.
Since Italy’s high schools don’t have athletic teams, the kids play on club teams. Gardelli’s club season lasted nine months.
“It was a little bit hard because it was like my second family,” Gardelli said of leaving his club.
College basketball also doesn’t exist in Italy.
“In America, you have the possibility to win a scholarship if you’re good. In Italy, that’s not possible, because you don’t have sports in college. So after under-18, you have to go to a pro team,” Gardelli said. “If you’re not good enough, you’re not going to make it. You’re career is going to stop there.
“My dream is to come back here (America) and play college basketball. It doesn’t really matter, Division II, Division I, community college, it doesn’t matter, just play four-year basketball.”
Gardelli’s exchange program ends on June 16.
After playing in college, Gardelli would like to return to Italy to play professionally.
“I went to America because I wanted to improve my basketball and then come back to Italy more ready to play on a pro team,” he said.
While Italian students are taught basic English beginning in elementary school, Gardelli said he didn’t really begin to study the language until three months before he came to the U.S. in August.
Gardelli’s first introduction to American basketball came while playing for McNary in a fall league.
He barely got on the court in the Celtics first regular season game, entering for the first time in the second half of a 68-54 win over Grants Pass on Nov. 30.
But by the third game, Gardelli was starting.
“The main problem was the language and understanding the plays,” said Gardelli, who had never played zone defense before.
Gardelli handled the ball more in Italy and was usually one of his team’s top scorers. He’s played primarily forward at McNary and had to buy-in to the Celtics’ philosophy of playing unselfishly on offense and working hard on defense. There’s also more scouting of other teams.
“The program at McNary is very serious and I like that,” Gardelli said. “You feel more like a real basketball player. You start to understand how it works. (McNary) coach (Ryan) Kirch is a very good coach.”
Gardelli also realizes he’s new to the team while other players have been in the program for four years.
“They are more senior than me,” Gardelli said of fellow seniors Lucas Garvey, Chandler Cavell and Andrew Jones. “I’ve been here four months so I understand when people have more leadership than me. I’m learning a lot of new stuff. I feel that I’m improving, playing this kind of basketball with other people that I’ve never played before in this league.”
Gardelli has remained in the starting lineup, averaging eight points and 3.7 rebounds per game as McNary as opened the season 13-4.
“I love my teammates,” Gardelli said. “I don’t know, maybe this will be my best season of my life. We are doing pretty good right now and I think we can get better.”
Gardelli has also enjoyed playing in front of larger crowds. While in Italy a good game drew maybe 120 people, the gym was packed when the Celtics hosted rival West Salem on Jan. 5.
“That’s very cool,” Gardelli said. “I love that and the students and my friends coming to watch me. That’s so cool. That’s not happening in Italy.”
Gardelli is staying with a host family. Since the legal driving age is 18 in Italy, he doesn’t have his license. While he’s yet to witness his first college or NBA game, the family has taken him to see Silver Falls and Crater Lake. He misses his own family, Skyping with his parents every two weeks.
“Sometimes you want to see your dad watch your game but he can’t,” Gardelli said. “I miss that.”
While Christmas is big in Italy, Thanksgiving was new.
“I like being here because I learn knew stuff about America,” Gardelli said. “I had never actually ate a turkey before. It’s pretty good. American food (overall) is not that good. But I’m a guy that can adapt to things. You have to be very flexible with everything.”
While school has been more challenging due to the language, he likes the flexibility of picking his own classes. At Gardelli’s school in Italy, students stay in the same classroom for the entire day. The teachers move.
But Gardelli’s stay in America, however long it might be, always comes back to basketball.
“I don’t know what I can do without basketball,” Gardelli said. “Basketball is my life. I decided to come here for the basketball. The first thing was basketball.”