First of all, I want to wish everyone a good EuroLeague season - not just players and coaches, but everyone working to make this competition great. I am happy to be back to Italy and play in the EuroLeague once again, this time in Milan. I always played against this team in the EuroLeague and the Italian League, so being a part of this team is great. I will keep doing all the things that I do as a player: run, play defense, work hard and play to win. It has been a really good situation already, even though I have only been here for two weeks. It is really nice to be back in Italy for my family, for my wife and for my son so he can know my wife's side of the family. It is all on the positive so far, a great experience, and I am looking forward to the next two years.
My wife is from Italy and she is happy to be back and closer to her family, her friends and where she grew up. Milan is only one hour away from where she was born, so people are going to be able to come to visit us, see us and our son, hang out and watch our games. It is a blessing to be back and to have people that we know closer to us compared to playing in Russia or Spain. It's been a great situation for us so far.
Once you have been in Europe for a few years, you know how important it is to have a good guest room in your house so that people can come to stay, not just for dinner or lunch. I am sure that at some point my mom and dad will come to visit us. If you have a good guest room, anybody can come whenever they want and hang out. It is great to be so close to everybody in Milan.
A lot of people think that my wife and I met in Sassari, but we actually met in Cantu at a club called Eleven. When I first met her, I was super shy and wasn't able to say anything, but a friend of mine literally forced me to go over and talk to her, and the rest is history! We went on a date and after that, you know how love stories go... you meet this person, get interested and the next thing you know, you have fallen in love. This is what happened with us! We have been married for three years and our son will be two years old in a week!
We got married in America and it was a really short ceremony. We had to get everything together because I was going to live in Saratov, Russia, and play for Avtodor. We had a really quick ceremony in America a week before we left for Russia and then decided to have a nice ceremony here in Italy, which we had this summer, on July 6. It was beautiful to see her smiling and walking down the aisle. An amazing feeling! It was a grand show, unlike our ceremony in America. I invited a lot of players, but most of the guys I invited were in America and it was hard for them to schedule flights on such short notice, but some of my former teammates here in Italy came to the wedding and enjoyed it a lot, like Matteo Formenti. I wish I could have invited more people, but hopefully, we will also do something in the States next year with a lot of people. Maybe not a wedding ceremony, but something to get everybody together and celebrate our fourth year of marriage.
I am getting pretty good at speaking Italian; I am not fluent, but I know many words and can follow a conversation. I am actually starting to learn more when I have the time. I have an app on my phone that is helping me a lot and my goal is that, by the end of the season, I can have a whole conversation without thinking in English too much. I want to have a full conversation with my wife and my family so that I can fully incorporate myself into the culture.
I love it in Italy, and in Europe, generally speaking. I enjoy Europe because of the way people do things to be with each other, taking time to hang out and spend time with your family and friends. In America, where I come from, we are always worried about the next dollar, thinking about work. Here in Europe, people enjoy being around other people, friends and family, and this is one of the reasons that drove me to have a career here. I enjoyed my time with every team that I played for in Spain, Russia and of course Italy. I enjoyed having time with my teammates and of course the fans, who make you play with heart and passion. I enjoy the time I spend with the people who are around you, it is a family atmosphere. It is what makes me want to come back every season.
One of my favorite words in basketball is "chemistry." As long as we have good chemistry, I think we will be fine. We have everything on this team that we want: size, athleticism, talent, good playmakers. I think that the best thing about this team is that we have many different ways to play defense because of the size and athleticism I mentioned. I think we are going to be a scary team this year; we have a lot of potential to get better as a team and grow as the season goes on. I am sure Coach Pianigiani will do his best to put us in the right situation and make sure that every time we step on the court we are able to compete and fight. We will not shoot the lights out every night, but we have to make sure we put in the right effort on defense, play hard and compete. If we play hard on defense and rebound well, we will have our chances to beat anybody!