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The Club Scene: Snaidero Udine
Feb 07, 2007
It is safe to say that Snaidero Cucine Udine is much more than a basketball club, but a global project trying to bring sports closer to its community. A successful businessman, Rino Snaidero, had the dream to support his hometown's basketball in the mid-1960s and the team soon became competitive for more than a decade. Although that team vanished by the late 1970s, a generation later, the son of the founder, Edi Snaidero, decided that there was no better way than honoring his father and his own city than bringing a highly-competitive team back to Udine in 1999. The Snaidero family, owner of Snaidero Cucine, one of the best-known kitchen furniture factories in Europe, have a global project in which the senior basketball team is just the beginning. The club also tries to get youngsters involved to help them become better human beings through the values of basketball. Joel Zacchetti, who has been there since the team was rebuilt, knows it really well. "Their desire is to help the boys to become men not just basketball players," Zacchetti told ULEBCup.com. "We have a bigger fan base every season, and playing European competitions is a great motivation not only for the ownership, but for everybody."
The story between Snaidero and basketball is a long one. It started in 1965 when Rino Snaidero, father of current Snaidero Cucine Udine president Edi Snaidero, decided to support his hometown's basketball team, so Udine started to play in the Italian minor leagues. The team did not spend too much time there, however, but quicly moved up to the Italian first division in 1968. Meanwhile, the factory of Snaidero Cucine, in the Friuli region, kept producing kitchen furniture that soon became famous all over the world. And Rino also kept supporting his team, APU Udinese, into the 1970s.
A new arena, named after legendary heavywhere champion boxer Primo Carnera, was built for Udine in 1970 and sold out with fans for several seasons on a weekly basis. A lot of legendary players wore the 'orange' jersey back them, superstars like Joe Allen, Bob Fleischer and Jim McDaniels, as well as Italian greats like sharpshooter Claudio Malagoli and forward Ivan Bisson. They all helped Udine to finish fifth in the 1972 Italian League and fourth in 1973, its best-ever result at a time when Italian teams like Varese and Cantu almost ruled entire continent. Even with that, Snaidero was and has ever been about much more than superstars and Italian League success. It has always cared about youth teams, helping the youngsters of Friuli to build their lives through the sports' values. In fact, the club's junior team won the Italian national title in 1976.
His father's basketball devotion it was pushed Edi Snaidero to help Udine return to the basketball elite in the late 1990s. His main idea was to create a great project involving youngsters from all over Friuli and also to have a very competitive team back in town. Snaidero Cucine Udine got a spot in the Italian second division before the start of the 1999-2000 season by buying the rights from Palladio Vicenza. With players like Charles Smith and Teoman Alibegovic, coached by Matteo Boniciolli, Snaidero moved up to the first division that very year by winning a thrilling best-of-five final series against Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto.
Zacchetti is the only player who has been with the team since it was rebuilt back in 1999 and he remembers those days really well. "Yes, I grew up in Udine as a player and as a man," Zacchetti told ULEBCup.com. "I watched the club grow on daily basis. The Snaidero family puts its heart in this project. Everything is simple and comes the easy way. Their desire is to help the boys to become men, not just basketball players. We have a bigger fan base every season, and playing European competitions is a great motivation not only for the ownership, but for everybody."
Snaidero's first season back in the Italian League was brilliant, as the team made it to the quarterfinals and lost in an unforgottable five-game series against Scavolini Pesaro. Snaidero could not reach the semifinals, but managed to qualify for the 2001-02 Saporta Cup, marking its return to European competitions after 25 years. Snaidero was also one of the 24 teams to take part in the first-ever ULEB Cup back in the 2002-03 season. The club managed to advance to the elimination rounds from Group A before being eliminated by Metis Varese in the eightfinals. It featured players like Demetrius Alexander, Michele Mian, Damir Mulaomerovic or Aleksandar Vujacic, who left Snaidero to join the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA that summer. Vujacic was one of those kids who started playing with the junior team, and was the first top prospect to come out of the project designed by the Snaidero family some years before. There are now 21 teams all around Friuli that are connected and involved in Progetto Snaidero nowadays.
"Nobody expected that Sasha could go from Friuli to Los Angeles," Zacchetti told ULEBcup.com. "He was a very good prospect when he came to play with the junior team, but in the end he was the first big achievement of the project."
Alibegovic took over the Snaidero bench for two consecutive seasons, but with average results, so the club opted to hire coach Cesare Pancotto before the start of the 2005-06 season. Pancotto is currently the active coach with the most first-division appearances in Italy, over 760 and counting. With Pancotto as its new boss, Snaidero matched its second-best ranking, finishing fifth in the Italian League, 33 years after the last time it had done so. Its roster featured a perfect mix of experience and motivated young players, such as point guard Jerome Allen, guards Mian, Nikos Vetoulas and Kyle Hill, forward Silvio Gigena and big men Jacob Jaacks and Christian Di Giuliomaria. The team earned its right to return to the ULEB Cup three years after taking part in its first edition.
Coach Pancotto opted to change his roster to take up the ULEB Cup challenge. Kristaps Valters has been a lethal weapon, becoming the ULEB Cup regular season Week 8 MVP. Valters made his presence felt by setting a record for the most three-pointers made in a ULEB Cup game, eight, on the same night he tied the ninth-best scoring mark in the competition, 36 points. He got help Damon Williams and Gigena in the backcourt, as well as from Jaacks in the middle. New and old faces arrived for the elimination rounds, as Allen is back again to wear the Snaidero jersey, and so is combo guard Mike Penberthy. Snaidero won the first leg of the eightfinals 75-72 against mighty Lietuvos Rytas, the competition's champion in 2005, and before his team visits Vilnius, Lithuania for the rematch next week, Zacchetti is ready.
"We got a narrow win at home, but thus is an 80-minute challenge and we are confident to advance to the next round," Zacchetti said. "We know it won¹t be easy to play in Vilnius, facing a big crowd and a very good team. But you step on court to win every game, and we want to come back from Lithuania with a ticket for the quarterfinals."
Win or lose, a look to this year's Snaidero roster shows a lot of professionals who have come through the ranks of the club's junior team: Filiberto Dri, Fabio Lovatti, Michele Antonutti and one more time Joel Zacchetti. They are the real inspiration for the ownership to follow on the road that Rino Snaidero mapped out 41 years ago.