Amedeo Della Valle is a player to keep an eye on as AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan progresses through the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. The 25-year-old may be new to the EuroLeague, but he is no newcomer. The son of an Italian national team player, Della Valle was groomed for basketball greatness from an early age, but then took a different path than most European prodigies to get there. Along the way, Della Valle was adored by fans at every stop for his curly mop of hair, three-point shots and emotional reactions and celebrations. After earning All-EuroCup First Team honors last season with Grissin Bon Reggio Emilio, he took the call from Milan and is ready for his next challenge, to become an impact player in the EuroLeague.
Della Valle wasn't quite born with a basketball in his hands; like many youngsters in Italy, he played soccer as a boy as well as basketball. When the time came to settle on one sport, basketball was the obvious choice, in part thanks to the influence of his father.
"I think he saw in me something different and he tried to emphasize it."
Carlo Della Valle was one of the better guards in Italy during the 1980s and early '90s, playing mostly for Turin and Rome. He was even called up to the Italian national team for a spell. Though he was a well-respected player for his technical abilities and toughness, Carlo Della Valle did not reach the top levels of European basketball. However, his background would help pace the way for his son to get there.
"I never really got a chance to see him play [competitively] because he retired at 32, a young age," Amedeo recalled. "But after that, I had a chance to see him play in the minor leagues, where he played for fun with his friends."
Carlo coached his son in the youth categories in the small town of Alba in the Piedmont region in northwest Italy. In the time they spent together both on the court with the team or playing memorable games of one-on-one in their backyard, Carlo started to mold Amedeo's game.
"The way he talked to me, even when he wasn't my coach, he was trying to give me a different kind of perspective than he had as a player," Amedeo said. "He was more of a point guard. I am more of a shooter/scorer. I think he saw in me something different and he tried to emphasize it.
Amedeo continued on the standard path for a top young talent in Italy. When he was 14, he moved to a bigger club, Junior Casale Monferrato, which was 90 kilometers away – and two hours each way by train. Amedeo lived in a club-run dorm with other young players, where he could focus on schoolwork and basketball. After one season, Marco Crespi, the coach of Monferrato's senior team in the Italian second division, called Amedeo up to train with his team.
"The life outside of basketball at Ohio St. You can't find that anywhere else."
While Amedeo climbed the ladder in Monferrato, the road to basketball stardom he envisioned for himself was much different than might have been expected. Carlo Della Valle and former EuroLeague great Bob McAdoo were friends from their playing days and when Amedeo traveled with his mother to Miami for his 13th birthday, Carlo reached out to McAdoo, who was an assistant coach with the Heat. Amedeo got to see a game and it was a memorable experience.
"That was in 2006, the year that they won [the NBA]," Amedeo explained. "It was just amazing for me. It was a whole different world as a kid. It was like magic.
With his basketball career blossoming, Della Valle crossed the Atlantic a few more times in the years to come. "I regularly started going back about once a year," he said. "And one year I went for two weeks to work out with Coach David Thorpe in Florida and he took me one time to Indiana University to show me. I just completely fell in love with the campus, how it was and everything. I thought about it and decided I must go to college in the States."
Dell Valle led Italy to the semifinals at the Under-18 European Championship in Poland in 2011 and that is where he first remembers Findlay Prep of Suburban Las Vegas reaching out to recruit him. "I saw a bunch of guys who went there before and I saw they had a lot of foreigners, too. I saw it was an elite program and decided I wanted to go there," he said.
Though they were on board with his decision to go, it was hard when Dell Valle decided he wanted to take the journey all alone. He was 18 when he left his mother in tears at the airport to start a new adventure. Della Valle knew little about the situation he was headed into and had only rudimentary English skills, but overcame the challenges with ease.
Della Valle said that he adjusted relatively quickly and found himself speaking English in no time. "It was very, very easy because nobody spoke Italian there. In my house, we had five guys, all speaking English. It was very quick for me to learn."
On the court, he found himself challenged but pleased with his progress. "The level was really good. There were a lot of guys who played in the NBA. I played with Anthony Bennett and Nigel Williams-Goss, Christian Wood. The level was very, very high. The rules were different, but at the end, it was just basketball."
In fact, Della Valle's name is still displayed at Findlay Prep: "I made a lot of shots and I broke Cory Joseph's record [for three-pointers], which is still there on the boards. It was pretty cool."
His year in Las Vegas was a memorable one and Della Valle cherishes the friendships he made there. He is in regular contact with William-Goss, who is now in the EuroLeague with Olympiacos Piraeus, and his former roommate Dominic Artis, who plays for Pesaro in Italy.
"It's actually very, very nice, it's a great feeling. You grow up with these players and you end up playing against them, you see how players succeed, how you succeed," he said.
Even though he spent a year as a teenager in the City of Sin, Della Valle said that the players stayed far away from trouble. "Actually, Las Vegas wasn't as fun as it sounds because if you're under 21 years old, you can't really do much," Della Valle explained. "But just seeing Vegas, the Strip, the lights, the casinos, it looks surreal."
After the Vegas lights, Della Valle's next stop was in quiet middle America.
"I chose Ohio St. probably because it was the hardest school for me. Because I was a different player. The Big Ten conference is a very strong, a very physical conference," Della Valle said, and he has few regrets. "I think I learned a lot in those two years and looking back, I think I would still make the same decision. Also because of the life outside of basketball at Ohio St. You can't find that anywhere else."
If his move to Findlay Prep was smooth, his first few months in Columbus, Ohio, were a little bumpy. "It was tough because you want to come in, have an impact, try and help the team. But it's a transition. It's not easy, it's not a given, so you have to earn [playing time]."
Della Valle spent two seasons at Ohio St., where he studied business and marketing. In that time, he left his mark with a handful of big games and a run for University Student Government President.
"The student managers of our team wanted to run the student government organization and they got me as the image guy to do it because I was a fan favorite," Della Valle said. "At Ohio St., a lot of people loved me. To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing."
"I think I did better the second year, but then I decided to come back."
"A lot of people voted for me, so the other people running were mad because I was taking votes away from them," Della Valle recalled. In fact, according to an ESPN story about the election, Della Valle placed fifth with 479 votes. "It was so much fun."
The relationships Della Valle made in college remain strong today. At Ohio St., Della Valle played alongside DeShaun Thomas, who is now with Panathinaikos OPAP Athens, for one season and Aaron Craft, who recently moved to EuroCup participant Dolomiti Energia Trento, for two. Because of his experience on both sides of the ocean, he is often contacted by American players before they come to Europe.
"Some players call me, ask me what it's like," Della Valle said. "I think DeShaun asked me when he first came overseas. He was supposed to go to Avellino, I think. He just asked me how it was, what to expect, how is life. It's different, so there's nothing wrong with asking."
"I started thinking, 'Did I make the right decision?' But each year I got better and better."
As soon as his second season at Ohio St. ended, Della Valle accepted an offer from Reggio Emilia and flew home to Italy. However, once again starting anew posed challenges.
"It was very hard. The transition especially was very hard," he said. "I thought it was going to be easy to come back and play right away, but I came back and I didn't play. I started thinking, 'Did I make the right decision?' But each year I got better and better."
Della Valle spent four-plus seasons with Reggio Emilia and helped the team make back-to-back appearances in the Italian League Finals and reach the 2018 7DAYS EuroCup Semifinals while taking on more responsibility every season. Along the way, the legend of La faccia cattiva di Amedeo Della Valle (Amedeo Della Valle's angry face) was born.
"That happened in the finals against Sassari," Della Valle explained of his reaction that launched a Facebook group and lines of clothing apparel. "I used to be, especially in my first few years, very emotional. Sometimes my emotions got the best of me. Now I am much more controlled. That's something that the fans in Reggio Emilia liked."
Della Valle became close with one of the guys who created the group and produced the clothing. Though he said he was not paid for the use of his likeness on the clothes, he did get samples of what they made.
If they were to produce a new line this season, it would have to look much different, because not only did Della Valle change uniforms with he signed for Milan, but he updated his look by cutting off the curly locks that he was so easily recognized with.
"I think it was time for a change," he said. "I kept my hairstyle for 25 years, so I figured, why not? I can change. It feels a lot different. It's much more comfortable this way. I can take a shower and be ready in two minutes!"
Of course, moving to Milan meant much more than changing his hairstyle and his uniform; Della Valle is playing in the EuroLeague and happy to have the opportunity.
"The EuroLeague is much different than it used to be. It's only 16 teams. And to be a part of a team that tries to be successful is important," Della Valle said. "I always dreamed of playing in the EuroLeague, even the old one, but to be in this new one, which means not a lot of players are part of it, is great for me. I have two guys in front of me that it's tough to take minutes from, but I'm just trying to give my best when I'm called."
Della Valle is, of course, referring to Milan's star backcourt duo of Mike James and Nemanja Nedovic. And even though they are an obstacle in terms of his playing time, both James and Nedovic are amazing references as Della Valle works on raising parts of his game to the EuroLeague level.
"I cannot be worried about myself. I am just worried about winning games and trying to help the team."
"To learn from them is great," Della Valle said. "They're different. Mike is definitely more of an aggressive type of guy. Nedo lets the game come to him. So I can take something from both of them.
"The season is long and the coach always tells me to be ready, my time is gonna come. It's also a transition for me. And also I cannot be worried about myself. I am just worried about winning games and trying to help the team."
After five games, Milan is riding high with a 4-1 record and in the top quarter of the standings alongside three other teams that reached the EuroLeague Final Four last season. This week Milan will be tested by CSKA Moscow in a game that Della Valle had circled on his calendar.
"I am excited to play against CSKA and to play against [Daniel] Hackett, who is one of my best friends," Della Valle said. "He always told me, 'one day you'll be in the EuroLeague, trust me. Just take your time.' He told me this as soon as I got back from the States."
Hackett was right. Dell Valle may have taken the unconventional route here, but he is now exactly where his father planned for him to be when he honed his son's skills in the backyard a decade and a half ago. Della Valle is now in the EuroLeague and ready to leave his mark.