It’s not often I’m not disappointed when I see a good player leave Virginia Tech when he still has eligibility left.
But this morning’s news that Grant Basile is leaving the Hokies to go play pro basketball in Northern Italy made me smile.
Basile is Italian, so much so he has obtained dual citizenship both here and in Italy. If you've noticed the dozens of letters in my last name, I too am Italian, as my grandfather came to America right before 1920.
Unlike Grant, who obviously has been over there quite a bit, I didn’t make it over to the land of my forefathers until I was 40, spending three weeks traveling through Tuscany, Milan, Lake Como, Vicenza, Venice and many small towns in between.
You see, when you grow up here and have an Italian name, you are Italian to everybody else. But it’s not until you go over and spend a lot of time there that you become Italian. I grew up speaking very little Italian because it was drilled into my Dad to not speak Italian outside the house. He was 18 when World War II started, and if you had a couple of vowels in your name, you were very careful not to speak Italian less someone think you were a Mussolini sympathizer. I think that’s why most Italians volunteered to fight in the war, just to prove they weren’t.
So around our house, Italian phrases were uttered involving food (time to mangia!) and insults (I was 13 before realizing my middle name was not “chadrool” which means “a fool”) and obscenities when one accidentally hit his knuckles with a wrench. But any conversational Italian never happened.
When I finally visited Northern Italy, we had tour guides who recognized I was Italian and they made it their mission to make me a real Italian. Seemed like every conversation started with either “A real Italian would…” or a complaint I had become too Americanized and was a lost cause. Sometimes I played along, once drinking a large glass of grappa with my hands behind my back (something I’d liken to guzzling diesel fuel in one big gulp) and sometimes I’d ignore them, like the time they complained because I ordered a pizza with a topping – sausage.
When it arrived, it was a beautiful cheese pizza with a big tube of sausage just thrown in the middle. Their message was clear: good Italian pizza was about the freshest cheese available, a crust better than anything you’d find in your neighborhood, and a savory sauce that struck just the right balance. If I wanted a pizza with toppings on it, they mentioned, go home to Papa John’s.
Over three weeks I got more comfortable with the language (multiple times I was told I was the only one in the group that didn't have an American accent). I noticed the attention to detail in cooking. I noticed I was slowing down my man on fire pace and enjoying the world I was in for just a short time.
I was becoming Italian.
The flight home I remember thinking I should have come to Italy right after college before the madhouse pace of life consumed me and spent one or two years there. And if I could ever go back in time and make that decision again, the second time around I would choose more wisely.
That thought process came back to me this morning when I saw Basile was leaving, because that’s really the choice Grant has. Play another year in Blacksburg, or spend three years in Northern Italy with all of his expenses paid by playing basketball.
To me it’s an easy choice. Go live your life to the fullest while you’re young and healthy and have fun.
Or stay where you are, only to one day look in the mirror and think "what a chadrool."😊