Not even three months ago, Bishop Miege forward Francesco Badocchi was on the court at Tony’s Pizza Events Center in Salina, Kan., surrounded by teammates as they raised a Kansas Class 4A-Division I basketball championship trophy.
Badocchi had played a key role in securing the Stags’ second straight state title, scoring 21 of his 48 tournament points in the final.
Badocchi a 6-foot-7, 195-pound senior who came to Miege from Italy as a junior, is bound for Charlottesville, Va., to play for Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers.
After playing basketball in the United States for but two high school seasons.
“I really had no idea what I was getting into,” Badocchi said. “I didn’t know how it was because I didn’t even think high school basketball was a thing. I thought everyone had clubs. When I came here I was kind of disoriented.”
Badocchi grew up in Milan, the son of a Kansas woman and an Italian native. He picked up an affinity for basketball so early it’s hard for him to remember when it even happened.
But he does remember spending endless summers as a kid in suburban Kansas City, where his maternal grandparents and other family members helped him foster his love for the sport by taking him to camps and clinics in the region. He remembers training with a friend of his uncle’s when he was about 10 years old and hearing him say, “Francesco is going to be a Division I player.”
It seemed inevitable Badocchi would end up playing basketball stateside. His two sisters, the oldest 21, moved to Kansas when they were seniors in high school and went to Shawnee Mission Northwest for a year. He just had to wait his turn.
When he finally was old enough, Badocchi’s parents bought him a plane ticket back to Kansas City and enrolled him at Bishop Miege in time for the 2015-16 school year. He moved in with his aunt and uncle, got a driver’s license and fit in effortlessly with the student body.
That hadn’t always been the case.
Because schools in Italy didn’t offer sports, Badocchi often felt like an outcast. He spent his time outside school in Italy traveling an hour to practice with one of the top club basketball teams in the country, and when he’d get home around 10 p.m., he would spend the next few hours on homework. The rest of his free time was usually spent taking piano and guitar lessons. That didn’t leave him room to socialize.
“I just didn’t fit. That’s kind of why I came here, because I felt like I could fit much more,” Badocchi said. “In Italy, being an athlete is not praised. It’s like you’re thrown under the bus.”
So when Badocchi played his first varsity game, the support from Miege teachers and classmates astounded him. And the support only ramped up as he and the Stags made a run for the state championship his junior year. He was easily the best all-around player coach Rick Zych had in his arsenal.
“We had no idea what we had here,” Zych said. “We knew he played a little bit of international ball, but we didn’t know how good he was. He’s a very skilled basketball player. ... Recruiters all liked his athleticism and the fact he could cover a 1 to a 5. He’s extremely intelligent, well-mannered and a down-to-earth young man. They all know he’s going to work hard for them.”
But a knee injury that caused his kneecap to pop out of place prevented Badocchi from finishing his first season at Miege. He had surgery, then had to ditch plans to play on the AAU circuit during the summer because he hadn’t rehabbed long enough.
Badocchi became one of the best-kept secrets in his senior class as a result. If scouts didn’t catch him in regular-season play, they wouldn’t have seen him much at all.
“I was trying to show everyone that I could get to the highest level and just playing at my max, doing everything possible,” he said. “I really wanted to go as high as possible. I thought I was a mid-major level player, but I was really hoping for high-major schools to call me.”
Badocchi’s numbers — he averaged 13.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game as a senior — did really stand out among the Class of 2017 recruits. His steadiness blended evenly with senior Semaj Ray, who will play at Kirkwood Community College (Iowa), and four-star sophomore recruit Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
Badocchi got some looks throughout the season, but the calls from major programs didn’t start coming until after he put up 21 points in the state title game. By mid-April, he had offers from UMKC, Miami (Ohio), East Tennessee State, Boise State, Illinois and Virginia. Ultimately the Cavs (23-11, 5th in Atlantic Coast Conference in 2016-17), who lost to Florida in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, won his favor.
Now Badocchi will get the chance to fulfill the prophecy his uncle’s friend laid out for him.
“Calls with the assistant coaches and the head coach at Virginia were nice because they didn’t really ask me about basketball,” Badocchi said. “They asked me about how I was doing. I had an ankle injury, so they asked me about that and how school was going, how I was practicing my instrument and stuff like that. With other basketball coaches, they were more focused on basketball.
“Coming to the United States was different because I had people around me that did what I did. It’ll be even better in college. That’s what I saw at UVA — the dedication, the humbleness and the focus on their goals.”