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Tyus takes Italy


By Tim Warren

Published Jul 1, 2007 8:00 AM

There's more to Bologna, Italy than pasta — powerhouse basketball.

Tyus Edney '97 has seen a lot of young Americans come to Europe to play professional basketball — and more often than not, he is pained by what he observes.

"It's better for guys who come over here to try to learn the culture, to learn the language and understand the cultural and societal differences," says Edney, who has played for five teams in three countries in nearly a decade on the Continent after starring for UCLA in the early 1990s. "It makes for an easier transition, especially for American guys [who] see only their culture."

But Edney is in no hurry to return to the States; he's having what he calls "basically a fairy-tale existence" playing in Italy and soaking up as much of European life as possible. He has become fluent in Italian and lives with his Italian-Brazilian second wife, Ainoa, and their 3-year-old son, Tyus Jr., in an apartment near the University of Bologna, the oldest college in Europe. Many Renaissance-era buildings remain in Bologna, and Edney says he is still struck by the sense of history everywhere he turns. And then there's the food: Bologna is known as the gastronomic center of Italy, famed for its pastas, cheeses, hams and salamis.

Bologna is also known as "Basket City" in Europe because the city is crazy about its two pro basketball teams. Edney's squad, Climamio, struggled at times this season, and by March it was on its third coach. Still, Edney sparkled as usual, averaging more than 12 points a game and running a high-powered offense that is second in the Italian league.

Europe was not on Edney's radar at all when he left Westwood. After leading the Bruins to the 1995 NCAA championship — immortalized by his daring full-court drive that beat Missouri in the last second — Edney played three years in the NBA. Then came the lockout of 1998, when the NBA owners and players were involved in a bitter labor dispute, and Edney ended up in Lithuania, lured by his former Bruin roommate, George Zidek '95, the Czech-born center on UCLA's championship squad.

Edney led the team, Zalgiris Kaunas, to the European championship, and he was named MVP in the Final Four. He went back to the NBA the following year, "just to give it one more shot," but left the Indiana Pacers after a year to play for Benetton Treviso, one of Italy's top teams. With Mike D'Antoni as coach — he's now with the Phoenix Suns — and Edney running the show, Benetton twice made it to the EuroLeague Final Four. He later played for a year in Rome and another year in Greece before coming to Bologna for the 2006-'07 season.

Edney says he wants to play two more years in Europe and then assess his options; one might be to represent an NBA team on the Continent. He still keeps a home in Las Vegas, and he wants his son at some point to live in the States "so he understands that side of his culture." But for now, it's pass the pasta as well as the ball.