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Mason Rocca interview.

It has been a decade since Mason Rocca '00 initially began playing professionally in Italy and the former Princeton standout is hosting a basketball camp for the first time this offseason in his adopted homeland.

Running from June 27th to July 1st, the "Study to Win" camp will reunite several former Tigers with the Armani Jeans Milano captain, mixing on-court and in-classroom education.

I had a chance to exchange emails with Mason and catch up before his inaugural camp gets underway. The full interview can be found after the jump.

Tell me about The Mason Rocca Basketball Camp and what you hope attendees get out of it.

The Mason Rocca “Study to Win” Basketball Camp is a week-long camp that combines basketball with English. The basketball aspect of the camp will be based upon a lot of the principles that I learned at Princeton. Meanwhile we will also be trying to spark the attendees' interest in learning English by providing customized English lessons that are basketball-specific. The morning part of the practice will be done in Italian, with the exception of the Team Offense station which will be run by the Princeton coaches, and will be in English. The afternoon will be all in English, where the Princeton coaches will run Princeton-style practices. Each day we will have a different theme (offensive spacing, pick n’roll, low post moves, defense, and fast break) and the kids will hear a lecture in the morning on the theme in Italian and in the afternoon in English.

My goal is to improve the attendees' knowledge of how to play the game, and also make them understand how important it is to work hard in school (by emphasizing the English element of the camp). I learned Italian through basketball and I think it is a great motivator when you are able to merge the game you love, with another language.

This camp will just be the first step in what I hope will become a year-long program that will follow the kids' progress in school and continue to teach them English. Eventually we hope also to bring a group of campers to the states and play basketball with American kids. Already we are collaborating with College Basketball Camp that takes Italian kids to participate in basketball camps in the states. Coincidentally they work with two college programs UCLA and Georgetown.

Therefore the Princeton connection extends even to Italy.

How many campers will you have there? What age range?

We’ll have about 50 kids, ages from 13-17. We wanted to keep it small this first year to put together a good product.

There are several familiar former Princeton folks heading to Italy as camp staff, no?

Our Princeton coaches are Darren Hite, Sean Gregory, and Gabe Lewullis. All three of which are extremely excited to come to the camp. Furthermore all of us were in Milan together 14 years ago when we toured Italy with Princeton. I’ve already sent them out practice plans and we’ll be working on the “Point” series of plays. Sean told me it took him 13 years to figure out, so we’re excited that he’ll be able to teach it to the kids in five days.

Is this camp part of a potential transition for you to coaching?

One of the factors that pushed me to start this camp was to see how I like coaching. I don’t know if I will eventually go into coaching, but having played professionally for 11 years I have started to develop certain ideas and philosophies of how the game should be played, and I am curious to see whether those ideas would work or not.

You've come a long way from the Trenton Shooting Stars. How many more playing years do you think you have ahead?

I’ve got a contract for one more year in Milan. I think I’d like to play for at least another 2-3 years, and then we’ll see.

How did this season for A.J. Milano go compared to other campaigns?

This season was not a great one for us. We made it to the semifinals in the Italian league but lost to Cantu. Our team was built with the talent to make a run at the championship. Unfortunately we weren’t ever able to put all the pieces together to have a team that played well together.

What's it like playing with Penn grad Ibby Jaaber and how much of a hard time do you give each other about your respective alma maters?

Ibby was my roommate on the road this year and there is a lot of ribbing about the Penn-Princeton rivalry. Like good Ivy League nerds we actually played chess against each other on road trips. I’m happy to say that I ended the season with a winning record against him. I also got bragging rights this year because of Princeton’s excellent season.

You've been playing overseas for a decade. Is Italy somewhere you see yourself and your family settling permanently?

Italy will definitely remain an important part of our lives after I finish playing. We’ve built a house over here in the countryside of Jesi, which is the first town that I played in. Two of our three kids were born over here, and they all speak Italian and go to Italian schools. However, until we figure out what we’re going to do after basketball I’m not sure where we’ll end up.

When I interviewed Kevin "Moon" Mullin '84, he shared some great Coach Carril stories. Do you have a favorite Coach Carril or Coach Carmody anecdote you would like to pass along?

When I was a freshman, Coach Carmody gave me the nickname Mr. Bizarro because I used to try and drive to the basket on the opposite side of where the opening was.

Apparently Bizarro was a superhero in the DC Comics world that did the opposite of what everybody else did. At the time I didn’t think it was very funny, but I’ve since seen many “Bizarro” players who don’t see the floor and just go on instinct, and I always say, "there goes another Bizarro."

Everybody else on the team though, thought it was hilarious, and it was.

Fortunately, I don’t think that I still play like Mr. Bizarro.

Best of luck with the camp. I hope it is a great success and an excellent experience for all.

Thanks Jon. It is always a pleasure to correspond with you.

If you enjoyed this Q&A, check out a photo essay from A.J. Milano's exhibition against the New York Kicks, images of a 2005 visit to see Rocca play in Naples and a thorough collection of videos, which includes Rocca's appearance on an Italian cooking show.

Steven Postrel said,

June 30, 2011 @ 8:55 pm

Good interview. I always felt Mason was one of the most satisfying players to root for because he made so many "hero" plays getting critical rebounds in seemingly impossible circumstances. He was a lot more physical than his teammates and added an important dimension to the squad. It's interesting that his camp will be teaching Princeton stuff since he always seemed to me to be less of a typical "system" guy than most of those who go through the program.

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