BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — Former Kokomo basketball player Alan Arnett's phone gets text messages while he's playing games at Georgia Southwestern. They keep coming and coming, as though he could read them during games.
The person sending them is in Italy, watching live, keeping tabs on him while living and playing abroad.
Another former Kokomo Wildkat, Brandon Wood, is that person on the other end, watching games live on his computer from his place in Italy.
"I stay up until 1, 2, 3 in the morning," Wood said this week when reached by phone in Italy. "Throughout his whole game, I'm texting his phone like he has it. 'That's a bad turnover. You missed that free throw. You've got to dunk on him. Make that jump shot.'"
Wood keeps an eye on Arnett, who is a senior at Georgia Southwestern. Wood, a former Kokomo standout, can't go to Arnett's games. He's got his own hoops career to attend to after a mid-season transfer to Pallacanestro Trieste, a level up from where he started the season.
"[Arnett] has been having a big season," Wood said. "That's my best friend. He came up under me on the court and off the court. I feel like I've taught him a lot and he's made me very proud. I couldn't be a prouder big brother for him.
"I watch every single one of his games. We text all day, every day. We're constantly pushing each other. I push him in the classroom, I push him on the court. We've been through a lot of the same situations on and off the court. We could easily not be where we are today. We could easily be off path."
Where Wood's path has taken him is scenic Trieste, Italy, a city on the Adriatic Sea in northeastern Italy, just a few minutes drive from the border with Slovenia. He joined Pallacanestro three weeks ago after spending the front half of the season with Affrico Basket Firenze.
"I was in Florence [Firenze in Italian] first and the team I was with, they had some financial issues and they let me know they wouldn't be able to pay me the rest of the season, so I asked for my release and was fortunate enough for this big opportunity to come along," Wood said of the move to Pallacanestro. "My agent put in some work and got this job to the table and it was really a blessing in disguise."
Pallacanestro is a move up for Wood. The Trieste squad plays in the Divisione Nazional A Gold, what amounts to the second division in Italy. Former Notre Dame player Ryan Hoover is also on the team.
"This is a higher league," Wood explained. "It's more experienced players and bigger name players and really one of the top 10 leagues in Europe. It's a great opportunity for me and I'm trying to take advantage of it."
Wood played his first game with Pallacanestro and scored 31 points in a 32-minute stint. The combo guard had been averaging 18 points per game at his previous club in Florence. He said the coaches and players at Pallacanestro are making the adjustment to a new club easier, and he's been able to step in do the things he's best at.
"Being an American in Europe, you're looked to to score and make plays at all times," he said. "If you don't, you won't have a job. Every situation I go to I get to do what I do best and make plays and score, and get my teammates the ball in open spots."
He said the style Pallacanestro plays is quick-paced, and helps him play to his strengths with a lot of pick-and-roll opportunities.
"I play best when I have 100 percent freedom to make plays and even make mistakes," Wood said. "I'm trying to take advantage of it and show what I do."
Wood has been in Italy about six months and is enjoying it. Italy is one of Europe's basketball hotbeds and also has plenty to offer off the court.
"Basketball-wise, I'm really impressed with the talent and how hard the players play," Wood said of Italian hoops. "Even the league I was in [with Affrico], even though it was a league below this, there were a lot of great players and teams in that league. I've been impressed with Italian basketball. I could see myself making a career for myself here, God-willing, whatever he has in plan with me.
"Off the court it's been great. Anybody that follows me knows I take pride in getting out and seeing history and experiencing the culture, seeing the historical sites. Me and my fiance [Aujalen Aldridge], as much as we can we get out and travel Italy. This past Monday, on my off day, we went to Slovenia for the day and saw some caves, went and saw some castles."
Wood said it's a 10-minute drive from where he lives to reach the Slovenian border. He's collecting countries as he continues his basketball life in Europe. His first stop last season was in Hungary before moving to Italy.
"I feel like everywhere I've been, I feel blessed to do what I love for a living," Wood said. "I don't know if I could be any happier. I'm a good spot. My hard work is being noticed. I'm just trying to continue to do what I did to get me here."