By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On-court ability is, naturally, a prime consideration for the University of Virginia men’s basketball coaches in recruiting. But also important, the Cavaliers have learned, are prospects’ ability to thrive academically and socially on Grounds.
UVA’s staff has no concerns about the team’s two scholarship freshmen, Marco Anthony and Francesco Badocchi, on that front. (Rounding out the Wahoos’ first-year class is walk-on Austin Katstra, a graduate of nearby Albemarle High School.)
“They fit,” associate head coach Ron Sanchez said of Anthony and Badocchi, who are roommates this summer and will live together in 2017-18.
“They’re Virginia kids off the court, and I think they’re pretty good basketball players too. How good they become is genuinely dependent on how hard they’re willing to work and how much they’re willing to sacrifice.”
Anthony is a graduate of Holmes High School in San Antonio, Texas. Badocchi (pronounced Baa-Dokey) grew up in Milan, Italy. His mother is American and his father is Italian. Badocchi, who goes by Frankie, lived in Italy until he was 15, when he came to live with relatives in Kansas for his final two years of high school.
When Anthony and Badocchi arrived in Charlottesville this month for summer school, they were measured at 6-5, 223 pounds and 6-7, 186, respectively.
The chiseled Anthony, more of a finished product physically than Badocchi, committed to UVA in July 2016. At the time, Anthony was considered a candidate to redshirt in 2017-18. But the departures from UVA this spring of guards Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson, each of whom had a year of eligibility remaining, is likely to change Anthony’s role this season.
“I don’t know if he would have redshirted, but his opportunities would have been less,” Sanchez said. “I think now he might have to play through some mistakes. Because of it, he’ll be better later.”
Badocchi, an explosive leaper, helped Bishop Miege High in Mission, Kansas, win state titles in 2015-16 and 2016-17. He was a late addition to head coach Tony Bennett‘s recruiting class, picking UVA over Illinois in late April.
His Virginia debut may not come until 2018-19. Not long after arriving in Charlottesville this month, Badocchi underwent surgery on his right kneecap.
He hopes to be cleared to practice by October or November but will probably redshirt this season, Badocchi said, “because we still don’t know how long it will take [to be 100 percent] and how fast I’ll be able to pick up [UVA’s style of play].”
Badocchi, who speaks fluent English, played his final senior at Bishop Miege on a bad knee.
“I wasn’t really pushing [off],” he said, “[UVA’s coaches] could tell in the video that I was sometimes hesitant to go on this knee.”
He’s still on crutches, which makes it hard for him get around Grounds, “but I’m making progress every day,” Badocchi said.
At John Paul Jones Arena, while the rest of the team goes through its summer practice schedule, Badocchi works extensively with Mike Curtis, Virginia’s strength and conditioning coach for basketball.
Their focus is adding “muscle mass,” Badocchi said, “just putting on weight, but in a good way that doesn’t keep me on the ground and not able to jump.”
Badocchi learned the fundamentals of the game well in Italy, Sanchez said. “I think Frankie just needs strength, and Coach Curtis can be a huge addition to his routine. I think that’s going to be the separator in his development, the time he spends in the weight room with Mike.
“I don’t know how much bulk he’s going to put on, but the kid has a really, really good work ethic. I don’t want to put him in the Malcolm [Brogdon] category, but he’ll be very deliberate in his work at weight room.”
The `Hoos did not recruit Badocchi, who was recommended to them by one of Sanchez’s friends, until the spring. He chose Virginia in part because of the school’s academic reputation, Badocchi said. “For me and my parents, academics is very important.”
Equally impressive to Badocchi, he said, was the Cavaliers’ program, “the attention to detail that they have in everything, in the fundamentals, the defense, and just their principles in general.”
In eight seasons under Bennett, Virginia has posted a record of 188-83. The `Hoos have advanced to the NCAA tournament in each of the past four seasons and in 2015-16 reached the Elite Eight.
Anthony is coming off a sensational senior season during which he averaged 25.6 points per game. He scored 30 or more points in nine games and 40 or more three times, with a high of 46.
“Marco was usually the biggest guy on the floor and most physical guy on the floor, though he’s definitely a big kid,” Sanchez said. “This is definitely a transition for him, but the one thing about him is, he’s wired the right way, with his work ethic.”
A Kobe Bryant fan, Anthony does not cheer for his hometown Spurs. The Lakers are his team, though he admits to liking San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard.
On the court, Anthony said, his first month as a Cavalier has been a learning experience for him, “coming over here and learning the style of defense, just new ways to play defense.”
He smiled. “A whole lot of defense.”
The college game is “way faster, way more physical,” Anthony said. “It’s fun, though. It’s just [a matter of] getting used to it.”
From a team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA tourney in 2016-17, UVA returned such players as Jack Salt, Isaiah Wilkins, Devon Hall, Mamadi Diakite, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, as well as Jay Huff and De’Andre Hunter, who redshirted as freshmen last season.
“They’re very helpful,” Anthony said of the veterans, “just teaching me everything that Coach Bennett wants and what he likes to see. Because coming in, I thought I knew about the defense, but it’s easier said than done, so they’ve been teaching me about it.”
As for Charlottesville, Anthony said, “It’s great, everything about the area. It’s beautiful over here.”
In Italy, Badocchi lived near the mountains, “so it’s nice to see them again,” he said.
Anthony has never been to Italy, and he looks forward to learning from his roommate about life in that country.
Badocchi hasn’t impressed with the pizza he’s had in America, but he’s hoping to discover good Italian restaurants in Charlottesville.
“I have to find my spots,” he said, smiling.