Rusconi a Favorite Sun in Italy

By Jeramie McPeek,
Published: October 1995

“Rusca e partito Italia per NBA!”

Translated into English, the European papers announced “Rusca to Leave Italy for NBA.” Rusca, the nickname of Italy’s favorite son, Stefano Rusconi, is now that country’s favorite Sun.

When Italy’s best center revealed his plans to leave his team and his country this past summer to sign a three-year contract with the Phoenix Suns, the news made headlines. Big headlines.

“All guys who play basketball dream of playing with the best players in the world,” he says. “Every player to me, when you play in the NBA, you are a superstar. It doesn’t matter if you play. If you are a part of the team, you are a superstar and everybody that doesn’t play in the NBA must watch everything. Everything.”

A 10-year veteran of the Italian pro league, Rusconi is now starting over as a rookie in the NBA. Like a high school senior from a small town enrolling at a major university, Stefano will have to remember what it’s like to be the little guy, even if he’s close to 7-feet tall.

“I know I’m 27 and I’m rookie,” he says. “It’s difficult, but I’m here to learn and have a chance to play and realize my dream. It’s the dream of every player can stay with these champions”

“If you play sometimes in Europe you play for the best team always, you don’t know the same match as you find the NBA. Here is more difficult because they are very good with the game.”

Rusconi was more than very good during his career across the ocean where he was known as the “King of Slam Dunks.”

Last season he was voted the Most Outstanding Player in Italy by players and coaches after averaging 10 rebounds and 16.5 points while shooting 60.5 percent from the field with Benetton Treviso.

He joined Benetton in 1991 when the team purchased the rights to sign him from Ranger Varese for $15 million. It was money well spent as he led his club to an Italian League Championship mere months later.

From the age of 17, when he began his pro career, Rusconi’s strong inside presence caught the eye of Suns’ head scout Dick Percudani, then a coach in Varese, Italy. Although Perc returned to work with the Suns, he continued to track the youngster’s progress.

“He became a top player pretty quickly,” Percudani recalls. “By the time he was 19 or 20, he was already considered one of the top centers in Italy.”

Percudani convinced the Suns to take a chance on him after the 1990 NBA Draft. The club traded the rights to another foreign player – Milos Babic – to the Cavaliers for the rights to Rusconi. Now almost five years later, Rusconi has arrived in the States and is ready to play. Almost.

“The only problem is I come from another nation and I’m a problem with the language,” he says slowly.

Suns’ head coach Paul Westphal says that once Rusconi gets adjusted, his aggressive and physical inside play could mean a bright future in the NBA.

“He’s lost right now – out near Saturn someplace,” Westphal says. “He’s on overload trying to figure out where he’s supposed to be, but he’ll figure it out. He’s just got a lot of culture shock to overcome.”

When asked if he would need an interpreter on the bench, Westphal just laughs.

“No. Heck, he speaks better English than some of our guys.”