BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — Brandon Wood remembers learning about far away places in elementary school. It’s a little foggy, he admits he wasn’t interested in reading about those places way back then, but he remembered the pictures.
Now, some of those foggy memories are coming into sharp focus as he heads into his first season of basketball in Italy. The former Kokomo Wildkat will suit up for Florence’s Affrico Basket Firenze in his new squad’s first league game of the season on Sunday, against Olympia Matera.
Wood has been in Italy since mid-August and is excited about his new home.
“It’s been a great experience so far,” he said. “Me and my fiancee [Aujalen Aldridge], we’ve gotten to see a lot of historical places, eat a lot of great food, just soak in the whole experience outside of basketball.
“I’m actually getting to see the stuff that I studied back in elementary. Just to be living my dream and having an opportunity to play in this place is so eye opening. I take pride in taking in the whole culture and seeing as much as I can.”
The basketball side is pretty important too. That’s what took him to Italy after playing in Hungary last season. Italian hoops has been an eye-opener as well.
“There were some great players [in Hungary], being in Italy, it’s a different breed of basketball,” Wood said. “It’s taken more seriously on and off the court. The Italian style is fast, so it fits my game. We try to get up and down the court. I like the style of play here in Italy.”
Wood got a crash course in Italian basketball when he arrived in the summer. The team began preseason training on Aug. 20 with a long run of two-a-days. Wood says the team had weights and shooting sessions early, then a break of four to five hours, then an evening practice.
“I’ve been blessed after this point, the first two years of my [pro] career, to be in good situations,” Wood said. “A lot of times in European basketball it’s about finding the right situation and the right fit. I’ve been blessed with a great situation here. The coaches are great, the team all accepted me. They brought me here to play my game. I don’t have to change any part of my game.”
Wood is a combo guard who finds himself playing more at the point guard spot than he did in college with Valparaiso and Michigan State, or last season in Hungary.
“That’s one of the knocks on me is I’m an undersized 2 guard, but I really haven’t had a chance at the college level or pro level to show I can play the point guard. I’m getting a chance to do that this year. I’m more of a combo [naturally] but my game hasn’t changed — make plays. I’ve been a scorer for as long as I can remember, so [my role is to] score, make plays for my teammates.”
The preseason in Italy’s Legadue Silver isn’t as heavy on games as it is for an NBA team. Affrico Basket Firenze has played a series of scrimmages in preseason that are less formal than NBA preseason games. Mostly, they’re playing against teammates.
“It’s going to be fun to know it’s official now and that it counts,” Wood said.
“Physically and mentally, I feel like I’m where I need to be to start the season. My confidence is high. I’m just looking forward to doing what I do.”
Wood’s goal is to eventually work his way higher and higher, though he’s quite comfortable with the situation he’s in. Italy is enjoyable and there’s plenty of Americans — students studying abroad and tourists — to give Wood a little bit of a comfort zone.
“I’m always working to get to the NBA and always keep that dream alive,” he said. But Italy has its advantages if that dream doesn’t materialize. “I really like the style of play. The living experience is more Americanized. It’s really like the States, so if I have to spend my career abroad, I can see myself spending my career in Italy.”