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Dudzinski prepares for pro basketball debut

Dave Dudzinski, a Kaneland and Holy Cross alumnus from Elburn who will play professionally in Italy, never had traveled outside the United States until this month.
Dave Dudzinski, a Kaneland and Holy Cross alumnus from Elburn who will play professionally in Italy, never had traveled outside the United States until this month.

As his summer travel itinerary expands with every destination – Boston to Elburn to New York City to Cuba to Agrigento, Italy – Dave Dudzinski takes a rare pause.

"All over the place, man," he said.

Every mile builds toward the Kaneland and Holy Cross product's professional basketball debut. He reports to Fortitudo Agrigento, a team in a second-tier Italian league, later this month, with promises of an apartment, car, monthly pay and right-hand side driving awaiting him.

That's all Dudzinski needs for now. He's taking his passport because it's required, not to rack up the stamps.

"A lot of people bring that up to me, and I'm looking forward to seeing the country and Europe, but at the same time, it's not a vacation, really," Dudzinski said. "It's my job. I'm going to treat it like that. I can't treat it like a vacation. You have to take it seriously and do what's best. Put my career first. All those sights, you can fall in with when you get the time."

At 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds, Dudzinski remains his own physical marvel, one bent on staying across the pond for a while before potentially building steam to give a potential NBA career a shot.

Holy Cross coach Milan Brown said he "wouldn't be surprised to turn on NBA TV and see" Dudzinski "on a summer league team" in five to eight years. High praise for the player Brown calls "probably the hardest-working kid that I've coached" over four seasons with Holy Cross and seven at Mount St. Mary's.

To that end, Dudzinski arrived at the Boston Celtics' practice facility from nearby Holy Cross for a pre-NBA draft workout in late June. He came armed with a psychological edge, if not every scout's attention, in a workout that also included Connecticut's Shabazz Napier – the Most Outstanding Player of the 2014 Final Four – and Michigan State standout Keith Appling.

Dudzinski's agent, Nick Morteo of Boston-based Pro Partner Sports Management, pulled some strings with the Celtics to help his client get some exposure. Dudzinski felt he left with even more.

"Oh, absolutely," Dudzinski said. "I had Shabazz Napier in my workout. He was a first-round draft pick (of the Miami Heat). I didn't have anything to lose, in my mind, so I just went out there and didn't take it as 'I need to show them this, I need to show them that.' I just went out there and played, and thought I played pretty well."

As a senior, Dudzinski ranked third in the Patriot League with a 15.1 points a game scoring average while leading the conference in rebounding at 7.4 a game.

Predominantly a back-to-the-basket player with the Crusaders, who won 55 games in his four seasons, Dudzinski showed touch from distance, as well, shooting 35.1 percent from 3-point range as a senior.

He devoted summer workouts to increasing his shooting and ballhandling skills, feeling confident about his blend of strength and agility in the post. Still keeping tabs on Dudzinski, Brown recalls a player who entered the program already bearing a pleasant surprise: more athleticism than the coaching staff thought at first glance.

"Dave goes 100 percent in the weight room, game, practice, classroom," Brown said. "He's a rare breed, for sure. I tell his parents every time I see him, they did a great job raising him."

Dudzinski again explored his options – basketball, fallback and otherwise – with parents David and Barb a few weeks ago.

This time, Morteo didn't just offer a few hours of drills with a professional team. He had a contract with one, albeit for an operation based on the southern coast of Sicily, Italy.

Fear of the unknown hardly fazed Dudzinski. Until this week, when he flew from New York to Cuba as part of a project with Full Court Peace, a nonprofit organization that unites at-risk youth through basketball, Dudzinski never had ventured outside the continental United States.

Bring on Fortitudo Agrigento. That first word, by the way, is Latin, noted Dudzinski, an accounting major who studied the language for two semesters.

"It seems like a fantastic situation. It's a really good league, especially for a rookie, so I'm excited about that," Dudzinski said. "Just taking any nervousness and just putting that in my workouts. I'm working that much harder."

Dudzinski is optimistic his parents can travel to see him play, especially considering he'll be unable to come home for the holidays.

The league plays games on Sundays from October through May, Dudzinski said. The first team meeting is scheduled for Aug. 20, with practice beginning a day later.

Fortitudo Agrigento has a history of signing American players, also welcoming Norfolk State guard Pendarvis Williams to this season's team. Guard Kwame Vaughn, a Cal State-Fullerton product, played in 2013-14.

Due to return home from Cuba this weekend, Dudzinski looks forward to one more stretch with family in Elburn. His younger sister, Katy, is a redshirt sophomore outside hitter for the Wichita State women's volleyball team. The family's youngest sibling, Robbie, is an incoming Kaneland freshman Dave said, "doesn't look like a kid anymore."

"No pressure on him, though," Dave Dudzinski said. "Want him to have a normal high school experience, just like me and my sister had. It's not like a do-or-die, get a scholarship or you're [an] outcast or anything. It's not like that at all."

Like their well-traveled son and brother, the Dudzinski family has solid footing in reality. It seems to follow wherever members go.

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