More than a decade passed from the time that Riccardo Moraschini made his EuroLeague debut as a top Italian prospect until he returned to the competition as an important role player with AX Armani Exchange Milan. The 29-year-old guard took the road less traveled in that time, dropping down as far as the Italian third division in order to rebuild his game and his confidence and become the person and player he is today.
It all started for Moraschini in the small town of Cento, between Bologna and Ferrara, which is well-known since the middle ages for its famous carnival and from the 1980s for its passion for basketball.
"My family supported me because of their passion."
"The basketball tradition in Cento pushed me to start playing when I was young. My father and my uncle also played for our local team, so it was very easy for me to make the decision to start to play seriously," Moraschini said.
After playing two seasons of mini-basket in Cento, Moraschini's family realized that his talent was worthy of the 35-kilometer journey to the big city to join a strong youth program.
"Starting from age eight, I played for Virtus Bologna," Moraschini said. "My family supported me because of their passion. My grandmother drove two or three times a week to Bologna to bring me to and from practice. It was fantastic, but also a huge sacrifice."
The investment of time and effort to join Virtus paid off as Moraschini became one of the top young players in Italy. He played for the junior national team from the time he was 15 and made his professional debut a year later, though there was plenty of pressure on him, too.
"When there is a young and promising player in Bologna, everybody talks about him, everything is exaggerated," Moraschini explained. "I was fortunate because, at 16, Stefano Pillastrini in just a week gave me the chance to debut in [the Italian League] and the EuroLeague."
"All the stops in my career, the good and bad experiences, helped me a lot."
He started and played nearly 18 minutes in that first EuroLeague game, but Moraschini did not score as a depleted Virtus lost 79-59 at Prokom Trefl Sopot. He recalled that game as "a positive but traumatic debut." He also appeared in the next game for almost 18 minutes again.
"I had emotions, adrenaline and a lot of sensations running around inside me which are difficult to describe," he said. "I remember that game very well from an emotional point of view. It was a great satisfaction also because I played many minutes in those two games."
Moraschini dreamed of being a professional at the highest of levels. He describes himself as someone who doesn't "like to lose – and not just in sports." That competitive drive caused him to continue working just as hard even after that auspicious early start "because this was my goal since the first days I started playing."
Despite all of his dedication, Moraschini struggled to take the next step with Virtus. He remained with the club until midway through the 2010-11 season, though he had a minor role in that time. To find increased playing time, Moraschini began a journey that would see him play for Biella, Sant'Antimo, Virtus Rome, Mantova and Trento over the next eight years.
"All the stops in my career, the good and bad experiences, helped me a lot," Moraschini said. "When you're so young and have a label, everyone has big expectations for you. Today, young Italian players have to be patient and lucky to get their chances. I did not have many chances, or maybe I was not in the right place at the right time, but my experiences helped me to grow up quickly and prepare for different situations, positive and negative. All of that helped me to build my personality. If you grow up in a soft situation, you're not ready to face problems. This helped me to become stronger mentally even in tough times."
It was with Mantova, where Moraschini spent two stints totaling three seasons in the Italian second division, that his game took off as he found the right atmosphere to work and play. In between, Moraschini joined Dolomiti Energia Trento, where a knee injury hampered his game.
"I took advantage of the time in Mantova," Moraschini explained. "I played a ton of minutes and was able to rediscover my confidence back in [second division] after the knee injury I suffered in Trento. Playing in Mantova was the right decision."
Back in the Italian top flight at age 27 with Brindisi for the 2018-19 season, Moraschini at long last had his breakout campaign. He averaged 12.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in helping the team reach the Italian League playoffs and the Italian Cup final. At the end of the season, Moraschini was chosen as the Best Italian Player in the league.
"I played naturally with my mind free, without having to think about what can I do or cannot do. I just played," Moraschini said of his success with Brindisi. "I found a coach [Frank Vitucci] and a team that trusted me and let me play the way I know. When our point guard was injured, the coach even gave me the opportunity to play in that role and everything went at its best."
Moraschini's strong season did not go unnoticed. In the summer of 2019, when Ettore Messina took the coaching reins in Milan, the guard quickly became a target.
"I spoke with Coach Messina and it was a very direct exchange," Moraschini revealed. "He talked about his ideas for the team he was building and told me what he expected from me. I showed him my great desire and passion to play at the highest level. It was a dream come true to sign for Milan with Coach Messina and to finally play again in the EuroLeague. All the efforts and sacrifices were repaid."
It was double special for Moraschini to play under Messina, who he looked up to as a young boy at Virtus when the was leading the men's team to EuroLeague crowns in 1998 and 2001. He summed up the chance to play for Messina in the EuroLeague as "all parts of a puzzle finally completed."
"When the call arrived, I was ready... I knew exactly what I had to do to help the team."
After playing sparingly during parts of his first season in Milan, Moraschini delivered late. He started and tallied a career-high 21 points on 4-of-6 three-point shooting in a Round 27 game against Real Madrid, which was the penultimate game before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He averaged 5.3 points and 2.6 rebounds over 15 games last season, which prepared him for an even bigger role this time around.
"With Ettore, all the players have a role on the team and you know that the goal is to win," Moraschini said. "I needed time to adapt to the team. I followed his suggestions and worked hard, knowing that I would have my opportunities and that he trusted me and pushed me to work to be ready for his call. And when the call arrived, I was ready. I grew day by day and I knew exactly what I had to do to help the team."
Again this season, Moraschini is averaging more than 17 minutes and 5.0 points as Milan has started strong at 3-1.
"This season, I know everything better and feel better with my teammates," Moraschini said. "We have big goals, the team is very important and we are working hard to reach them. The key so far has been our defensive intensity and we have to continue this way."