Nocioni: All Heart, All Hustle, All the Time
Olympic Gold Medalist Andrés Nocioni possesses a tough, no-nonsense on-court personality that the Bulls can’t get enough of.
“Bulls fans are really going to love this guy,” Dallas Mavericks Assistant Coach Del Harris said. “He hustles his tail off.”
Who was Harris talking about? None other than the 25-year old Argentina native with a brand new gold medal, Andrés Nocioni.
“[Andrés] was the guy we really wanted,” described Bulls GM John Paxson. “He’s a small forward that plays a very physical game. If you’re going to compare him to anyone in the NBA, he’s a bit like Matt Harping.”
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Harpring, he is a bruising six-year NBA veteran who plays for the Utah Jazz. Much like former Bulls great and current Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, Harpring’s never been afraid to mix it up on the floor, often battling opponents chest to chest, or diving head first into the stands for a loose ball. “That’s the type of team we’re trying to build around here. [Andrés] fits everything we’re trying to do,” adds Paxson.
Bulls coach Scott Skiles also has high praise for Nocioni, saying with a smile, “Nocioni irritates a lot of guys. He’s one of those you love to have on your team but hate to play against.”
There is little doubt that Nocioni is a diamond in the rough. But besides countless bruises, ice bags and bandages, what else will he bring to the Bulls over the years?
Well, for one, a winning attitude. Much like the Chicago’s young draft picks, Ben Gordon and Luol Deng, the 6’7” South American comes from a winning program. He hits town with two highly regarded feats in tow: last season he was named MVP in the ACB Spanish League—the strongest in Europe—and was a major player on Argentina’s gold-medal-winning team in this year’s Summer Olympics held in Athens, Greece. His European averages of 16.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists last season are as solid as anyone’s in the NBA today. And, in a game against perennial Euro power Benetton, Nocioni exploded for 35 points and 16 rebounds and shot 86 percent from the field.
“We cannot replace Andrés Nocioni, and we should not even bother looking for a player similar because he does not exist. There are no forwards in Europe with his character, physical talent and finesse,” says Spain’s Tau Cerámica’s Head Coach, Dusko Ivanovic, who for the past three years coached Nocioni. “Andrés’ competitive attitude and his willingness to sacrifice go hand in hand with his great fundamentals and winning mentality.”
“Andrés plays with a passion that I believe all players should play with. He brings his best efforts every night," says John Paxson.
From the first day he picked up a basketball, Nocioni’s built a reputation for being a fiery, hard-nosed competitor. He’s never feared injury, even if it meant sacrificing multiple body parts to win a game. His fearless play has been his signature. But it was in 1999 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, during the Tournament of the Americas, where he first caught the eye of the NBA world. In a game between Argentina and Team USA, Nocioni caught a pass in the corner and immediately drove along the base line, heading towards the basket, where he met up with NBA superstars Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. Before the two perennial All-Stars knew it, the young Argentine launched himself towards the rim and, with one hand, thundered home one of the most powerful dunks ever seen. Team USA Head Coach Larry Brown was beside himself, immediately calling a time-out to implore his stars to seek revenge.
However, after seeing a replay of Nocioni’s posterizing dunk after the game, Brown told reporters that, in his opinion, there was plenty of room for the brash swingman in the NBA. Garnett, for his part, shook his head in amazement when asked his thoughts about Nocioni’s facial, saying, “Wow—he just might make the NBA off that dunk—you never know.”
Argentine national hero, Manu Ginóbili of the San Antonio Spurs, has been singing Nocioni’s praises for years, telling anyone who would listen that his fellow countryman could be a monster in the NBA. But, until this past summer, Nocioni never felt the time was right to attempt a move. When rumors began to swirl a few years ago about him jumping to the big time, Nocioni answered that, before he would go, he first wanted to become one of the best players in Europe. “The NBA will come at the proper time,” Nocioni would steadfastly repeat time and time again. “I’ll go when I’m ready.”
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“Any basketball player in the world who does not know the history of the Chicago Bulls is not really a basketball player,” Nocioni told the Chicago Tribune after it was announced that he had signed with Chicago. “I would always watch from Argentina if the Bulls were on television. Everyone did. Obviously, they had the best player in the world in Michael Jordan, and they had the best team.”
But it has been seven years since Jordan and the Bulls parted company. And, in that time, everyone knows, the Bulls haven’t come close to experiencing the joys of winning.
“To me, the Bulls are still the Bulls,” Nocioni quickly counters. “It’s an honor to wear their uniform.”
Before heading to Athens for the Olympics this past summer, Nocioni made a brief visit to Chicago to check out the sights and its people. Obviously, he liked what he saw.
“My deciding to come to Chicago to play was more than just a player changing teams. This move was sort of a new chapter….I have to adjust to a new country, a new city, a new culture and a new language. But, more importantly, my wife, Paula, was pregnant with our first child. So everything changed. And because this was such an important move, I thought I should see the city and meet my new coaches and teammates before I signed anything,” admits Nocioni.
(Editor’s Note: Andres and Paula welcomed a little boy—Laureano—into the world on November 9. The eight pound tike was born in Argentina. Both mom and baby are doing well and recently joined dad in the Windy City.)
“Chicago is really beautiful; I love it. I was told the winters can be a little rough, but where I played in Spain (Vitoria) was cold, too. I won’t worry about the cold. It doesn’t really bother me.
Nocioni stepped right in to contribute for the Bulls, averaging 10.0 ppg and 5.1 rpg as the team’s starting small forward in November.
Nocioni also says he relishes the opportunity to now call Michael Jordan’s old haunt—the United Center—his new basketball home. “You can really feel his presence the moment you step in the building,” Nocioni gushes. “The first time I was there, I got to see the championship banners, and see Michael’s number hanging there too. But what I liked most was seeing Jordan’s statue outside. I had my friends take a lot of pictures of me standing in front of that statue!”
And, with tongue firmly planted in his cheek, and with no disrespect intended, he added, “Maybe if I play really good, when I retire, the Bulls will build a statue of me, just like the one they did for Michael.”
Well before anything like that happens, Nocioni’s has to lace up a pair of shoes and prove his worth on the court, night after night, year after year. But if you listen to Paxson, he’s just as excited about Nocioni's future.
“Andrés plays with a passion that I believe all players should play with. He brings his best efforts every night. He’s Chicago—he’s tough and he’ll never give up.”
Nocioni also has strong feelings about Paxson and truly believes he’s in the right place at the right time.
“John Paxson has made me feel very comfortable and right at home. And the Chicago fans I’ve met have been great, too. After my summer visit, I knew in my heart that signing with the Bulls was the right thing to do.”
Whether he plays like Matt Harpring or Jerry Sloan, one thing is for certain—whoever goes up against Andrés Marcelo Nocioni is going to be in for a fight.
“Nocioni’s a hard-nosed guy, a guy who won’t back off from anything or anybody,” chimes Dallas’ Del Harris. “You could put him on the other team’s hot hand for eight or 10 minutes straight, and he’ll drive the guy crazy. I’m telling you, this guy is gold.”
That’s exactly what Bulls fans are counting on.
By Miguel Romano