|FIP President Gianni Petrucci presents Andrea Cinciarini with the Final Four MVP award|
By Dimitris Kontos
"I see this night as a departure point for me," a breathless but jubilant Andrea Cinciarini, soaking in a mixture of champagne and sweat, told a group of journalists on Sunday night in Bologna.
Cinciarini, a 27-year-old player who had never won any title in his career up until that evening, had just collected a European trophy and a Final Four MVP award, in one go.
A few steps back from the newly crowned EuroChallenge champion and the media swarm outside the Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia locker-room, another smiling Italian point guard, Daniel Hackett, was enjoying the moment.
Hackett had driven to Bologna on Sunday to watch his friend Andrea Cinciarini and Reggio Emilia defeat Triumph Lyubertsy in the final, from a court-side seat at PalaDozza arena.
"I have known this guy since we were kids and I am very proud of him," the EA7 Emporio Armani Milano player told fibaeurope.com.
"He is a great leader [and] a great point guard that runs his team in an amazing way and this MVP [award] shows what a big winner he is.
"In my opinion, he is right now a top point guard at European level."
Right now, a lot of people around Europe would agree with Hackett's assessment.
That however was definitely not the case as recently as a couple of seasons ago, before Cinciarini joined the ranks of Reggio Emilia.
"He is overall one of the most improved players in Europe lately and he proved it by winning this cup," Hackett said.
"He had an up-and-down season two years ago, but after that he's been on the rise.
"Sometimes, when you encounter little bumps on the road, they help you improve your game."
RIGHT PLACE, WRONG TIME
Cinciarini went through his bumpiest stretch during the 2011/12 season, while he was playing for Cantú.
It was supposed to be a breakout year for him but, instead, it came close to ruining his career.
"That season was my big chance to play as the starting point guard in a Euroleague team," Cinciarini explained to fibaeurope.com.
"But, unfortunately, things did not turn out the way the coach, the club and myself expected."
"At first I experienced beautiful situations during that year, like making my debut in the Euroleague, the team qualifying to the Top 16...I felt great up until December and I played well.
"But, for a number of reasons, this changed after January and I was no longer the same player as the one who started the season.
"Since Cantú was a club that was aiming to win, the coach [Andrea Trinchieri] little by little started losing faith in me.
"We broke up a three-year contract at the end of that season."
A NEW START
|Reggio Emilia provided Andrea Cinciarini with a new lease on his basketball-playing career|
That summer, Cinciarini was turning 26. No longer a young talent, from the outside it looked like he had missed the train and would never be able to get back on board again.
The point guard did not see it that way though. For him, it was time to regroup.
"After that season at Cantú, I decided I needed to work a lot individually in the summer," Cinciarini continued.
"I practised and also worked mentally and psychologically doing a coaching course with Lucio Zanca (former EA7 Emporio Armani Milano general manager), that changed my outlook.
"Then, thanks to Reggio Emilia, a club that believed in me, and to coach [Massimiliano] Menetti who knew me from Montegranaro and had trust in my quality, despite that season at Cantú, I started improving again.
"I was a bit sceptical when I arrived at Reggio Emilia, a newly promoted club, from a team that had played in the Euroleague.
"But I found a club that was ambitious, had a leader in President (Stefano) Landi who is in love with basketball, had a long-term plan and a team that wanted to grow, and grow together with me.
"It was well-organised, they knew what they wanted and how to get there, so it was not such a surprise when we made the play-offs and the Final Eight of Coppa Italia already in our first year back in Serie A."
THE EUROBASKET LIFT
Cinciarini had gotten his second chance and, this time around, he was making the most of it.
But the extra leap in quality would not have been possible if he had not also competed at a different level altogether.
"The experience with the national team and coach Simone Pianigiani handing me the reins at the EuroBasket helped me to improve enormously," the Reggio Emilia playmaker explained.
"If you arrive to play at that level and you do well, you realise that the direction you took in the last couple of years was the right one.
"We played at the limit of our possibilities at EuroBasket, we fought until the last man in the game against Lithuania, until we were overcome by fatigue."
BRING IT ON
|Cinciarini claims his summer spent with the Italian national team went some way to preparing him for the EuroChallenge Final Four|
Cinciarini had no way of knowing it back then, but the EuroBasket experience would ultimately provide him with a basis for the EuroChallenge double award in Bologna, several months later.
"The Euroleague campaign with Cantú and the EuroBasket with Italy were the processes that prepared me for the challenge of the do-or-die games in the Final Four," Cinciarini said.
"The level at EuroBasket is very high and you play 11 games at that level, so when you arrive to the point of playing two games in three days in the Final Four, you are ready for the challenge.
"The games are tougher, the level of physicality is higher, there is a lot more contact than normal, but you are prepared for it because you experienced the top level in the summer.
"Also playing two games a week during this season [with Reggio Emilia] was very important for us, it helped us grow faster as a group, it gave us experience against teams of various playing styles.
"In fact now I believe that all teams should play two games a week, even if it is more tiresome.
"Once we arrived in the Final Four we were both proud and anxious, because it was the culmination of a path we had followed during two years.
"The club had never won anything, I had not won anything, most of my team-mates had never won a title either."
Cinciarini is so driven, so focused, that anyone who converses with him even for a while is left not only absolutely convinced that last Sunday was, indeed, a departure point in his career, but also starts contemplating the possibility that 28 is, perhaps, the new 18, by the time the conversation is over.
"I turn 28 in June and, as you said, most players mature sooner," Cinciarini said.
"But I have matured as a player in the last couple of years,
"I am now growing as a player and I think, or rather I am sure, that I will still improve further because hard work pays off.
"I go to practice with the attitude, the will to improve a little bit every single day.
"And when you see the example of [Rimantas] Kaukenas, who is 37, working just as hard next to you, it makes you happy, you know that you are doing the right thing."