Basketball, Sports

Nic Nobili brings European roots, versatile skill set to men’s basketball

As a little kid, Nic Nobili would read up on his father’s favorite basketball players — European stars Toni Kukoč, Arvydas Sabonis and Sasha Danilović — and marvel as he attended Virtus Bologna games in his hometown of Bologna, Italy.

Nic Nobili
Freshman forward Nic Nobili warming up for a game against University of Hartford on Nov. 17. Nobili is an international student from Italy and joined Boston University’s men’s basketball team this semester. ZIYU (JULIAN) ZHU/DFP STAFF

Put simply, he grew up on European hoops.

Through his upbringing, 20-year-old Nobili learned the values that make the European style of basketball unique — an emphasis on passing, spacing and team defense. Fundamentals. Those qualities shaped Nobili’s game as he sprouted into an athletic 6-foot-10 frame and traveled overseas to play high school basketball in New Jersey, and then in Ohio. 

Now, they’re anchoring him as he begins a new role with the Boston University men’s basketball team.

Nobili, a freshman, is a big man with guard skills who can knock down the three, play with a tight handle and fling accurate passes to open teammates. And, like a traditional center, he has a soft touch around the rim and a package of post moves.

“Since I was a kid they told me how to shoot, how to dribble. It didn’t matter how tall I was,” Nobili said. “I think playing (in) Europe really helped me for my vision on the court because over there, it’s really organized.”

Nobili committed to BU over several other mid-major schools, including Patriot League rivals American University, Lehigh University, Lafayette College and the College of the Holy Cross. 

“Whether it’s to turn and face, or throw it over shorter, he can make any and all type of passes,” said Jeff Sparrow, who coached Nobili for a year at SPIRE Academy’s post-graduate program.  “I just think that comes from his background being overseas (and) how they teach youngsters over there. I just think he’s very, very unique in that sense.”

Off the court, Nobili is soft-spoken and level-headed. On it, he’s technically-sound and versatile.

Mattia Largo, a youth coach at Virtus who worked with Nobili for three years and considers him a “sports son,” helped to instill those values in Nobili from a young age.

“Nic’s strengths lie precisely in the fact that in addition to his size he has great technique in all situations of the game,” Largo wrote in an email. “Players of Nic’s size so technically complete in every part of the game are a rarity.”

Nobili understands that to thrive at the Division I level, he’ll need to bulk up to match up with opposing big men. He learned that lesson early on, after facing graduate student forward Walter Whyte, sophomore forward Malcolm Chimezie and senior forward Nevin Zink in practice.

“I got some bumps under the rim that I was like, ‘Damn, okay, I’ve got to fix my physicality,’” Nobili said.

Nobili grew up in a suburb of Bologna, and started playing for Largo at Virtus’ youth academy as a twelve-year-old. He later moved across the Atlantic to New Jersey, where he averaged 10 points per game for prep school Paul VI. The transition wasn’t easy. The move thrust Nobili into a new country thousands of miles from home with new social dynamics and a language he could hardly understand.

“It may not look like it, but the difference between Italy and New Jersey is really big,” he said. “I didn’t know English at all. I knew the basic grammar but I couldn’t really speak with nobody.”

By the end of the year, Nobili had picked up enough English to comfortably communicate with others and settled into life as a high school basketball player in the United States.

Eventually, he moved on to SPIRE, a nationally-ranked post-graduate program in Ohio that NBA All-Star LaMelo Ball once played for. 

Nobili is the first European player at BU in the Joe Jones era, and the first international player on the roster since Blaise Mbargorba, a native of Cameroon, played for the Terriers in 2017.

Nobili first caught the attention of BU assistant coach Curt Wilson when Nobili was with Paul VI, and the Terriers sent him an offer in April of 2021, before he began playing with SPIRE.

Nobili, along with freshmen Otto Landrum and Ben Roy, have played minimal minutes so far this season, but after BU’s three consecutive losses at the Cream City Classic in Milwaukee, Jones said he’ll consider tinkering with the rotation and giving the freshman more opportunity. 

For now, Nobili has focused on studying the playing style of Whyte, BU’s starting power forward and leading scorer. 

“I think that’s my position, so I’ve got to see what he does, what he doesn’t do,” Nobili said of Whyte. “He’s really efficient on the court and he helps the team every game, so I’ve got to take some of his tools and some of his skills.”

After his career at BU concludes, Nobili hopes to travel back to Italy and play in the Euroleague — the premier European basketball league which includes Virtus, his hometown team. 

“He’s got a bright future,” Jones said. “He’s a hard worker, he wants to be good, he’s very coachable. All things we love at BU.”

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One Comment

  1. Great story, Mitch. I’m so proud of you!