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Viva Italia

Thursday, January 29, 2009

By: Tim Warren, Princeton Alumni Weekly

Mason Rocca left Princeton in 2000 with a degree in electrical engineering and a profound sense of what might have been in his basketball career. Injuries, some of them serious, limited him all four years, and the moments on the court that he could savor were counter- balanced by stints rehabilitating a knee or nights spent watching the Tigers from the bench in street clothes.

Eight years later, Rocca still has to contend with injuries — being an undersized center (6 feet, 8 inches) with a hard-nosed approach to the game will do that. But he has flourished as a professional player in Italy, becoming one of the most respected post players on the continent. He also has enjoyed the personal journey, reclaiming his Italian heritage by immersing himself in the country’s language and culture. He’s even bought some land near Jesi, where he began playing in 2001, and cultivates 70 to 80 olive trees that produce “a very good olive oil,” he says with a note of pride.

“I really had no idea things would work out this way in Italy,” Rocca said after a November practice with his current team, Armani Jeans Milano. “Being over here has allowed me to finally show what I could do on the court, against some of the top players and teams in Europe, and also to learn about and appreciate my background. I feel extremely fortunate.”

Rocca’s success has surprised even his biggest fans. “[H]e’s a very single-minded guy,” says Bill Carmody, who coached Rocca for all four seasons at Princeton before moving to North-western. “He had it tough in college because of all the injuries, but his stick-to-it-iveness is amazing.”

To read Tim Warren's piece in its entirety, courtesy of Princeton Alumni Weekly, please click here.