Written by Jordan Cohn '19
Fossombrone. Nestled in the hilly countryside of central Italy, this small town features Renaissance-era churches, several prominent monuments of antiquity, and the lively Piazza delle Corriere. Just over 9,000 residents make up the entire population of Fossombrone.
But a new addition to the community turned heads this past year, as there was something different about him. The comune of Fossombrone is generally not a tourist destination for Americans, unlike the nearby cities of Florence and Rome. But this was no tourist; instead, it was the only American resident in town.
Brandon Federici '18 was Franklin & Marshall College's only 2,000-point scorer and an NCAA DIII men's basketball All-American. For him, Fossombrone offered a world of new opportunities and challenges that presented a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Post-Grad Journey
It wasn't immediately easy for Federici to find his way in the world of professional basketball. The choice he had to make was one that would determine not only his professional life, but his social and financial life as well. His family and friends showed constant support and encouragement, but his most important sources of advice came from his time at F&M.
"I spoke to Georgio [Milligan] and Hayk [Gyokchyan] about their experiences," Federici said, though he never played with them.
Milligan played in Costa Rica within a year after he graduated from F&M in 2012; he now plays for the Guaros de Lara in Venezuela. Gyokchyan, a 2013 graduate, plays in the Lebanese Basketball League for Riyadi Beirut. Undoubtedly, the two former Diplomats had drastically different experiences from each other, which would also differ greatly from Federici's. Nonetheless, he found their advice extremely valuable.
"They offered a lot of guidance," explained Federici. "Having an agent, for example, was new to me. They were there for the life experience, so it helped me envision what a long-term move would look like."
The decision process wasn't without road bumps. He had to fire an agent. He had to apply for Italian citizenship, engaging in a legal process that he wouldn't even have felt comfortable going through in English. And by the time he had to make his choice, he still hadn't been signed to a team. F&M's all-time leading scorer had to travel to Europe without a definite plan.
Federici ultimately chose to take the gamble and head overseas. With his F&M highlight tape and word-of-mouth scouting as his only weapons, he didn't expect much to come out of the trip.
"It was a risk to go there without anything secure, but I took in all of the different advice I'd received and figured it was worth it," recalled Federici. "Worst-case scenario? I would just come back home after traveling around Europe for a month."
Federici wouldn't end up returning home for nearly four months when he surprised his family over the holidays.
La Vita Italiana
While Federici entered the Italian culture, he had some helpful experience to smooth the transition. He had studied Italian at F&M for all four years, spending significant time off the court in the Italian Club and setting himself up for a potential future abroad.
"I changed the language setting on my phone to Italian," said Federici. "I traveled to Italy through an immersion program during the summer. I made sure to keep in contact with my professors. Professors Scott and Giovanna Lerner and Professor Arianna Fognani provided the best backbone possible for my background in the language and culture."
Following graduation, Federici spent the beginning of his European adventure traveling to Rome and Milan, but for the most part, he was preparing to get to work.
"I would be in my lawyer's office south of Rome for much of the time, just waiting for calls from my agent about the next steps," explained Federici.
But there were better ways to spend his first days abroad. In order to truly begin a new lifestyle in Italy, Federici couldn't sit around and wait for something to occur.
"One of the most important things for me to do was to learn how to live like an Italian citizen," said Federici. "I would just walk around and explore, get a feel for the mannerisms and culture, talk to locals, and just try to really immerse myself."
Though his background in Italian eased his transition, he found the people extremely welcoming. The first person to meet Federici when he arrived in Fossombrone was Gabriele Giordani, the head coach of Fossombrone's Bartoli Mechanics.
"He had arranged to meet me when I got there, and it was great to have someone familiar with me as soon as I stepped foot in Fossombrone," recalled Federici.
The Mechanics are a Serie C Gold team. Known as an amateur division, Serie C Gold ranks as the fourth-highest level of basketball in Italy, and is the lowest at a national level. There are five leagues below it that are based by region.
After three days of workouts and a scrimmage, Giordani had seen enough. Federici's agent told him the good news.
"It all happened like that," said Federici. "I went from having no plan to getting signed after just a few practices."
Only 10 days after arriving in his new home, Federici's international basketball career was underway.
Federici had to sit out the first two games of his contract due to international eligibility issues, but it didn't take him long to make an impact.
In just his second game, Federici earned a new Italian moniker: il cecchino, which roughly translates into "the sniper."
In that game, F&M's all-time leading three-point shooter (309 made in his Diplomat career) made five of his eight attempts from deep en route to 18 points. From there, Federici and the Mechanics went on a six-game winning streak to turn around a loss in the season opener. During that stretch, the sniper scored in double-digits four times, including a 29-point explosion in which he poured in six from beyond the arc.
Federici gained instant recognition in the community as one of the team's deadliest scorers and gradually became more comfortable with the residents of Fossombrone.
"At first, everyone was kind of wide-eyed at the new American in town," recalled Federici. "But my teammates went out of their way to include me in everything, and I became involved within Fossombrone.
"I tried to develop a routine. I found a pizza place, Arcobelleno, which was my spot for the entirety of my stay. I walked through the Piazza Corriere and engaged with the locals.
"The most immersive experience I had was helping local kids with basketball and teaching them English. They had trouble pronouncing Brandon, so I pretty much just went by il cecchino or even il americano."
The early-season winning streak also introduced Federici to the culture of winning. Every single win, according to Federici, was cause for a big celebration.
"We would go out on the team credit card and just get a ton of food and drinks. Desserts, espresso, wine, you name it. Huge crowds of people went and if any fans saw us, they'd offer to pay for our dinners and drinks."
The fans were one surprising part of Federici's experience. While Mayser Gymnasium held some of the best memories in his basketball career, F&M's fans couldn't quite compare to the intensity of those in Fossombrone.
"It was incredible," said Federici. "These games were like life or death, like how I'd expect European soccer to be.
"One fan was so crazy and passionate that he brought a small firecracker-type explosive into a game, and planned to set it off after a big play. We had no idea what was going on when it went off, but they handled the situation quickly and we went back to work."
Another moment that struck him was when, for the first time in his life, he saw a young fan wearing a jersey - his jersey, that spelled "Federici" in bright letters across the back - as he was walking with his friends.
In the small town of Fossombrone, Federici had reached celebrity status.
As the season went on, Federici continued to impress as Fossombrone racked up victories. A special point in the season was when the Mechanics beat the first-place team, 96-59, thanks to a spectacular shooting performance from il cecchino. Federici finished the contest with 23 points, including a 7-for-9 three-point shooting display.
A small injury in mid-March held Federici out for a game, but he was back in time to help the Mechanics clinch a playoff spot March 31. Though they were knocked out in the first round after a best-of-three series, Federici helped lead the charge in front of a packed gym, on hand to witness the team's first playoff win at home in years.
At the end of the season, Federici spent a few days with teammates and coaches before excitedly heading home.
Federici's upcoming summer back in the United States was originally set to include two tournaments. He began competition at the Pan American Maccabi Games, held in Mexico City, playing alongside former F&M teammate and close friend Lior Levy '17. Levy's father, Howard, is the co-chair of Maccabi USA basketball and helped Federici make contacts overseas in the early steps of the process.
"It was an honor and an amazing experience to represent Jewish Americans in the Maccabi Games," said Federici. "Mr. Levy was a big reason that I chose to play basketball internationally in the first place."
Federici was also set to take part in The Basketball Tournament (TBT) before a shoulder injury kept him out of action. Held annually on a national scale, TBT features a 64-team layout all competing for a cash prize. In the past, former NBA players such as Mike Bibby have taken the court in the highly-competitive tournament.
Federici would have suited up for "We Are DIII," a team comprised of the nation's premier former DIII players. Milligan also is a member of the team.
The former F&M star will hope to work his way back to full strength as he eyes what's next in his basketball career.
"I'd say I'm leaning pretty heavily, about 80 percent, toward going back to Europe next year. However, Israel is the other option, and I'm going to do my research before I decide what's best."
Wherever he chooses, Federici knows he wants to play in a more competitive league than Serie C for 2020. While he's not sure how much longer he wants to play international basketball, his long-term plans include law school.
"I took the LSAT this summer, and that will enable me to play basketball for the next two, three, however many years until I decide what I want to do in the long run," said Federici.
For now, all eyes are on il cecchino and where his limitless range will take him next.