Jubilant Virginia leaves court after dramatic Final Four win
For a player who has appeared in 10 games, including one NCAA Tournament contest, for Virginia this season, it’s difficult to imagine someone enjoying himself more at the Final Four than Francesco Badocchi.
“It’s been this surreal experience,” Badocchi said.
A capacity crowd of 72,000 at U.S. Bank Stadium is expected on Saturday when the Cavaliers meet Auburn in the national semifinals. Heady stuff for the 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman forward who played his final two high school seasons at Bishop Miege in Kansas City.
Badocchi took a road less traveled to his spot on the Virginia roster. He grew up in Milan, Italy. His father is Italian and his mom is from Kansas.
There weren’t many playing opportunities in Milan. But he spent his summers with grandparents in Shawnee playing basketball, going to camps and developing his game.
His two older sisters went to Kansas and Badocchi wanted an opportunity to play college basketball. Enrolling at Miege, an athletic powerhouse, turned out to be a critical step in the process. He was enjoying success as a junior until a knee injury in a sub-state game required surgery.
Miege went on to win a state championship that year and the next, when Badocchi was healthy. He didn’t play AAU basketball; his recruitment sprouted instead from coaches scouting the high school team, which included Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who will play at Villanova next season.
Mid-major schools took notice of the springy forward who had played in a tournament with an Italian national age-group team.
Then Illinois called, and Badocchi said he was “90 percent” sold on signing with the Illini.
But his parents and grandfather steered him toward Virginia.
“I didn’t get it at first,” Badocchi said. “I’m so blessed I chose Virginia. I love it here. It just feels perfect.”
It doesn’t hurt that Virginia has reached the Final Four for the first time since 1984. But it’s been more than that. Badocchi took a leave from the team as a freshman to deal with an undisclosed medial issue. He remained enrolled.
This season, Badocchi has scored five points. His season high in minutes during any one game is four.
But this is where he wants to be.
“Being part of this team, getting a chance to walk out on the court, I can’t even tell you how blessed I am to be in this position,” Badocchi said.