The Story Of The Youngest NCAA Coach Shows A Massive Disparity Between Italian And American Sport’s Systems - UBITENNIS
Connect with us

Focus

The Story Of The Youngest NCAA Coach Shows A Massive Disparity Between Italian And American Sport’s Systems

Nico was born in Cagliari, he has two university degrees which he received in Florida, and he coaches the Rollins College tennis Team at only 23 years old. His story shows why everything is different overseas.

Avatar

Published

on

In the United States, the term ‘education‘ does not translate, to the concept of ‘education’ that we are familiar with in Italy or in Europe. Even the term ‘college‘ does not correspond to the Italian and European universities. In the United States colleges are much larger structures with world-class facilities; they are in fact small towns. Some of them even have their own police department. Extracurricular activities are one of the main ways in which students express their talents outside the classroom and are fully supported by the universities.

 

Among these activities we have sports. Not in the sense that the student has to sneak off campus to play tennis, perhaps feeling guilty for taking time away from books. In college, sports are a very serious matter. There are teams, coaches, there are stadiums with thousands of seats. The Tiger Stadium in New Orleans hosts the home games of the University of Louisiana football team and can hold more than one hundred thousand people. That’s about 250% of the Juventus Stadium capacity! Everything is under the NCAA. The NCAA was founded 114 years ago, it manages sports competitions and championships among US colleges. Don’t let the “university sports status” fool you. They take it extremely seriously and most professional football and basketball professionals are required to spend a year in the NCAA. The second of the six titles won by the University of North Carolina basketball, in 1982, materialized thanks to the decisive basket of Michael Jordan in front of 60,000 people and 17 million viewers. (Four times the spectators who attended the Wimbledon final between Federer and Djokovic last year).

The point is: in the United States you don’t have to choose whether to pursue a university degree or play sports at a high level, dreaming of a future as a professional athlete. You can do both.

It would be too simple to conclude that American sports culture, combined with the concept of education, is light years ahead of the Italian one. “I wouldn’t say so. It is a parallel universe. It’s like living on another planet, it’s not better or worse: it’s just different. The concept of the Italian university is not comparable the American college experience.” To tell us this difference is Nicolò De Fraia, known as ‘Nico’, since most Americans struggle with the pronunciation of his full name. In fact, Nico lives in Orlando, Florida, and at only 23 years old he is the Head Coach of the Rollins College tennis team. Difficult to track all the ages of all the coaches of the NCAA teams, but there is a rumor that Nico is the youngest of all; he is certainly among the youngest.

Nico was born and lived in Cagliari up to his teenage years; after being among the best under 12 and under 14 tennis players in Italy he moved to the Bruguera Academy in Barcelona for two years. He never returned home: first, he landed at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton, where in addition to the tennis training, he concluded the unusual ‘trilingual’ high school course started in Cagliari and continued in Barcelona. ​​Consequentially, after high school, he accepted a tennis scholarship to play for the University of Central Florida (UCF), the largest university in the United States- with nearly 70,000 students this year. In 2017 he obtained his first degree in psychology and in the meantime, he trained under the wing of UCF Head Coach, John Roddick, Andy’s brother, and coach early in his career. Nico says: “John is a great person, like all the members of the Roddick family”. Nico talked well of  his good friend Tommy Paul, who is currently ranked number 57 in the world: “I am convinced that he will do great things, from the baseline he is really strong.”

Nico De Fraia with the team at Rollins College

In search of a prestigious business school, De Fraia moved to Rollins College in Winter Park, the top-ranked business school in Florida according to Forbes, where he took advantage of the remaining two years of eligibility to continue playing in the NCAA championship. Following the excellent results on the court, in 2019 in which he had a 20-1 record at the top position, he received the honorary mention of ‘All American’, which is a prestigious honor reserved for a hypothetical American sports team composed of the best players in the league. In the same year, he completed his second degree in International Business and began a Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA), simultaneously while accepting the role of assistant coach of the Rollins College men’s tennis team. In January of this year, the previous coach retired, and Rollins promoted Nico to the role of main coach which he holds with another coach.

 

Nico De Fraia’s story highlights the possibilities offered by American academic-sports programs to those who deserve them. Nico moved from UCF, University ‘Division I’, to Rollins College, which instead is in ‘Division II’ (there is also Division III). The difference is not purely sport based. The fact that in Division I colleges sports play at a semi-professional level which goes hand in hand with large monetary investments and intense recruiting methods, which favor the formation of more competitive teams. Nico says that in some games at UCF there was live TV. In prestigious Division II (and D-III) colleges, the focus becomes academic: in most cases, it makes no difference whether the candidate is an athlete or not, he must still have certain grades to be accepted.

This helps the growth of young athletes, who can make their choices based on their academic and athletic levels at 18 years old. A fundamental aspect of the youth’s developing path. Nico helps us understand this concept with the example of Jannik Sinner on one side, and Kevin Anderson and John Isner on the other. “Sinner is 18 years old and he is a top 100 ATP player; for him, it would make no sense to go to college because it would take time away from a professional career already started. However, if at that age the player is not developed enough to be a top professional, he can get an education and compete at semiprofessional levels until the age of 23 years and grow as a player and as a person, like Anderson and Isner did.” In fact, they faced each other as students, in a match for the NCAA title in 2007, when they were 21 and 22 respectively, and eleven years later competed for access to the Wimbledon final, during a grueling semi-final to the bitter end which sent the South African to challenge (unsuccessfully) Novak Djokovic.

The crucial difference between the two systems is that from the Italian, or more generally European tennis training path, a young athlete who has unsuccessfully attempted to become a professional is usually stuck without a valid working alternative because he invested everything in the sport. An athlete who instead attended college and at the same time tried to play tennis, even in case of failure, still has all the possibilities to build a professional curriculum outside of sports. These are possibilities that obviously must be seized by means of commitments, sacrifices (also economic), and great time management skills. Nico, who is an NCAA coach, MBA student, and will shortly begin an immersion track with NASA says: “Time management is extremely important here”.

Nico told us that he faced and beat Tsitsipas (a year younger than him) in a youth tournament when he was 15 years old, proving that he does not lack talent – and this is also supported by Claudio Pistolesi, who knows and trained him for some time in the United States. With great maturity, however, Nico also realized that probably even if he made the maximum effort, he would not have been able to make a good enough living off a career in future tournaments. The first doubts came after a shoulder injury from which he had difficulty recovering when he was still investing 100% in his tennis career. He rolled up his sleeves and left his comfort zone, first helped by the family and then walking on his own legs, and he understood that he had to invest also and above all in academics.

The skills that Nico acquired with his academic career proved to be essentials for him to manage the role of coach at a prestigious college like Rollins College founded in 1885. His roles involve sport-related decisions as well as manage the budget made available by the university and national-international recruiting. This mix of sports and academic careers makes us wonder one last question for him: How and where do you see yourself in ten years?

 

“I honestly don’t know, but I’m open to everything. I hope to be able to be in a place and position that benefit both myself and the community. Families need to understand that tennis can certainly be part of a boy’s growth, but it can’t be the top priority before a certain age, regardless of his level.”

Article originally written By Alessandro Stella and translated by Nicolò De Fraia

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Focus

WIMBLEDON: Rafael Nadal Coy Over New Injury Speculation

After the foot problems in Paris, there is a strong possibility the Spaniard could be experiencing another injury issue.

Avatar

Published

on

image via twitter.com/atp

There are fresh concerns surrounding Rafael Nadal after he declined to go into the reason why he was wearing abdominal taping during his fourth round match at Wimbledon. 

 

The 22-time Grand Slam winner was seen wearing some kind of protection in the abdominal area after changing his t-shirt during one of the breaks. In recent weeks Nadal has been dealing with physical issues due to a long-term foot condition he has. At the French Open he revealed that he had to undergo injections in order for him to continue playing en route to winning the tournament for a 14th time.

Playing 21st seed Botic van de Zandschulp, Nadal battled his way to a 6-4, 6-2, 7-6(6), win. Speaking to reporters after his latest win at The All England Club, the Spaniard sidestepped a question about a potential abdominal problem he could be experiencing. 

“I am a little bit tired of talking about my body. It’s not that I don’t want to answer your question, but at the same time sometimes I am tired of myself, all the issues that I am having. I prefer to not talk about that now,” he replied.
“I am in the middle of the tournament and I have to keep going. All respect for the rest of the opponents. I am just trying my best every single day. For the moment I am healthy enough to keep going and fight for the things that I want.”

Continuing to stay coy about his form and health, Nadal offered an alternative perspective when asked if he was nearing his best level once again. He has dropped just two sets in four matches played so far at Wimbledon which is his first grass-court event since 2019. 

“It’s always the same here. It’s not about how close I am to the level or not. I don’t know that. I can’t predict what can happen.” He said.
“But the positive thing is the first two matches haven’t been good. Then two days ago I played at a high level for the first time. And today most of the matches, again, at a very positive level.”

The straight sets scoreline failed to tell the true story of Nadal’s roller-coaster win on Center Court. Taking on Zandschulp, a player who burst onto the main scene last year by reaching the US Open quarter-finals as a qualifier, the 22-time major champion engaged in a match of two halves. Nadal looked on the verge of an easy victory after breaking once in the first set, twice in the second and storming to a 5-2 in the third. However, the Dutchman refused to go down without a fight by displaying his best tennis of the match to draw level. 

Now engaged in his first real test, Nadal was under intense pressure to close it out in three. If he didn’t there would have been an inevitable delay for the roof to come on due to poor light. If that occurred, there would be less than two hours of play left before the 11pm curfew began.

Nevertheless, Nadal didn’t need the roof as he squeezed through the tiebreaker. After squandering three consecutive match points, he prevailed on his fourth with the help of a lob that triggered Zandschulp to smash the ball out. 

Nadal is through to his 47th major quarter-final and is only the third man in the Open Era to do so at Wimbledon after celebrating his 36th birthday. In total, he has won 309 main draw matches at Grand Slam tournaments.

In the last eight, the Spaniard has a shot of revenge when he takes on Taylor Fritz who ended his 20-match winning streak earlier this year in Indian Wells. During that match, Nadal had a rib injury and he had beaten the American earlier that month in Mexico. 

“That last match (in Indian Wells) was zero because I had a stress fracture on my rib, and it was difficult to learn many things because the pain was terrible playing that match.” He said. 

As for Fritz, he believes their upcoming clash will be at a higher standard given the form both players are currently in. Fritz is currently on a eight-match winning streak after recently claiming the Eastbourne Open title. 

“It’s going to be a lot different match obviously. Indian Wells was kind of crazy with both of us being extremely beaten up before the final. This time I think we’ll get healthier versions of both of us, we’ll see.” Fritz previewed.

The question for nadal, is how healthy is the current version of him really is? Only time will tell. 

Continue Reading

Focus

Wimbledon: Nick Kyrgios Shakes off Injury Trouble During Epic Clash To Reach Quarter-Finals

The Australian is through to the last eight but how will his body fair in the next round?

Avatar

Published

on

Nick Kyrgios has reached his first Wimbledon quarter-final in eight years but fresh concerns have risen over his current health. 

 

The world No.40 ousted America’s Brandon Nakashima 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-1, in a marathon last-16 encounter but at times looked to be in discomfort. Throughout the match, Kyrgios clinched his right shoulder on multiple occasions and required a medical timeout during the third set. The issue comes two days after his dramatic clash with Stefanos Tsitsipas who has since accused the tennis star of bullying. 

Despite the injury scare, Kyrgios still managed to produce a total of 35 aces and dropped serve only three times in the match. Overall, he hit a total of 78 winners against 42 unforced errors. 

“It was a hell of an effort by Brandon. He is a hell of a player. He is 20-years-old and he is going to do some special things (in the future), that’s for sure,” said Kyrgios.
“It wasn’t anywhere near my best performance but I’m super happy to get through. I fought really well today and the crowd was amazing. it was special stepping out here (on center court) once again.”

Kyrgios’ use of unorthodox antics was on display from the start. Besides a series of heavy-hitting, his first use of the underarm serve occurred just three games into the match. Although it was canceled out by a let call. It was soon after that when the alarm bells first began to ring with the Australian showing visible discomfort with his right shoulder. Appearing to clutch it after almost every point. At 5-4, Nakashima was the first to draw blood after a forehand shot from his rival landed beyond the baseline to hand him the break to clinch the opener.

Whilst Kyrgios initially looked to be far from his best, he was handed a lifeline at the start of the second frame. 20-year-old Nakashima produced a double fault followed by a forehand shank to hand Kyrgios an early break. The American was making his second main draw appearance at the tournament and sixth overall in a major.  Seizing the moment, Kyrgios consistently served around the 130 mph mark to close in on leveling the match. Doing so with a serve down the middle of the court his rival returned into the net. 

However, the shoulder still proved problematic for the 26-year-old who had to take a medical time out for treatment half-way through the third frame. Visibly bothered by the issue and shaking his head, he continued playing on Center Court and somehow managed to go ahead. During the third set tiebreak, a Nakashima double fault handed Kyrgios an early break as he worked his way to a 6-2 lead. He then sealed the set with a blistering forehand return.

The roller-coaster continued into the fourth frame with Kyrgios buckling after hitting back-to-back errors to go down a break. It was at this point that he fumed at a comment made by somebody in the crowd.

“It’s the same sh*t over and over again. I’m trying to obviously make my first serve. Stop saying that. Obviously, I’m trying to f**king make my first serve.” He was heard saying during the changeover.

Nakashima continued the momentum with a three-game winning run to force the encounter into a decider. 

Despite the blip, Kyrgios managed to find another level by storming through the decider by winning six out of the last eight games played.

“I’ve played a lot of tennis in the last month-and-a-half. I’m just proud of how I managed to steady the ship,” Kyrgios replied when asked about his shoulder. “He came out firing in the fourth set. My five-set record is pretty good and that is what I was thinking about.’
“I was like ‘I’ve been here before, I’ve done it before and I can come through again.’”

Kyrgios is the sixth Australian man in the Open Era to reach the last eight of Wimbledon on multiple occasions after also doing so in 2014. The run continues his fine form on the grass this season where he has already reached back-to-back semi-finals in Stuttgart and Halle.

In the next round, he will play Chilean underdog Christian Garin who edged out Alex de Minaur 2-6, 5-7, 7-6, 6-4, 7-6 in an epic clash to become only the fourth man from his country to ever reach the quarter-final stage. Garin saved two match points en route to victory after four hours and 34 minutes of play. 

“I was really excited to play de Minaur, to be honest. He has been flying the Aussie flag for so long. I came on the court when he was two sets to love up and I was expecting to play him but I’m not going to think about that,” said Kyrgios.
“I need a glass of wine for sure tonight.”

Continue Reading

Focus

Wimbledon Daily Preview: Former Champions Nadal, Halep Headline Monday’s Play

Avatar

Published

on

Simona Halep after her first round victory (twitter.com/wimbledon)

Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep are both currently on 10-match win streaks.  Nadal has won his last 10 matches overall, going back to his 22nd Major title run in Paris.  Halep has won her last 10 matches at Wimbledon, going back to her title run in 2019.  On Monday, both face seeded opposition on Centre Court.  Rafa takes on one of the sport’s fastest-rising players of the last 12 months, Botic van de Zandschulp, while Simona faces the No.4 seed Paula Badosa.

 

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s five most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Monday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Nick Kyrgios vs. Brandon Nakashima – 1:30pm on Centre Court

Kyrgios helped create yet another circus during his four-set win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in the last round, in a match where both players behaved quite terribly.  But Nakashima is a player who will not fall for Nick’s theatrics, as he is extremely composed on court.  The 20-year-old American was ranked outside the top 100 a year ago, yet is projected to debut inside the top 50 with this result, his deepest run at a Major.  Brandon collected 45 match wins at all levels last season, with two Challenger titles and two ATP-level finals.  Nakashima is a consistent player, with strong groundstrokes off both sides.  But he does not possess the serving prowess of Kyrgios, nor the experience on big stages.  And there’s no bigger stage than Centre Court, Wimbledon.  Nick has fond memories on this court, as it’s where he made his Major breakthrough eight years ago with an upset over Rafael Nadal.  That remains only one of two Slam quarterfinals Kyrgios has achieved.  But in his first career meeting against Nakashima, he’s the favorite to reach that stage at a Major for the first time in over seven years.


Alize Cornet vs. Ajla Tomljanovic – Second on No.2 Court

Cornet became the player to end Iga Swiatek’s 37-match win streak, and she did so with a comprehensive straight-set win.  This is the Frenchwoman’s 18th season of Grand Slam play, and she finally achieved her first Major quarterfinal six months ago in Australia, where she took out both Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep.  Tomljanovic achieved the same milestone a year ago at this event, when she defeated Emma Raducanu, Jelena Ostapenko, and Cornet.  On that day, Ajla prevailed over Alize 6-3 in the third.  Overall they have split four previous meetings.  Neither player was having a stellar season prior to this tournament, with both owning losing records on the year.  But on this surface, and in a highly-important matchup, I give the spunky competitive spirit of Cornet the slight edge.


Paula Badosa (4) vs. Simona Halep (16) – Second on Centre Court

Their only prior encounter occurred earlier this season in Madrid, where Halep was easily victorious by a score of 6-3, 6-1.  And while Badosa possesses the better ranking at this time, Halep actually has a better record on the year.  And Simona is now 9-1 on grass in 2022, which was the same record she had on grass in 2019, when she last played on this surface.  The two-time Major champion missed this event last year, as well Roland Garros and the Tokyo Olympics, due to a calf injury.  Neither player has dropped a set this fortnight, with Badosa taking out another two-time Slam champ, Petra Kvitova, in the last round.  That was a high-quality affair, with both Paula and Petra effectively applying their aggressive nature on this surface.  While Halep is the much more accomplished grass court player, I favor Badosa’s strong baseline game to again be rewarded on Monday, and to even her head-to-head with Halep.


Amanda Anisimova (20) vs. Harmony Tan – Third on No.1 Court

Both of these players already achieved phenomenal wins during the first week.  Anisimova came back from a set down to defeat Coco Gauff, while Tan prevailed over Serena Williams after over three hours of play.  Tan had never advanced beyond the second round of a Major, but followed up the biggest win of her career with two straight-set victories.  Anisimova is vying for her best result at a Slam since her 2019 run to the Roland Garros semifinals.  And it was during that run when her only previous matchup with Tan took place, with Amanda prevailing 6-3, 6-1.  Anisimova is in the midst of a strong season, with a record of 28-10.  Her outstanding backhand should allow her to dictate play and earn another win over Tan, despite Harmony’s diverse game filled with guile, drop shots, and tweeners.


Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Botic van de Zandschulp (21) – Third on Centre Court

This is a rematch from the third round of the last Major, when Nadal won in straight sets at his beloved Roland Garros.  Rafa did not look his best during his first two rounds here, but upped his level significantly in a comfortable victory over Lorenzo Sonego on Saturday.  Van de Zandschulp’s rise the last 12 months in his mid-20’s has been remarkable.  He reached the US Open quarterfinals as a qualifier, and has now advanced to the third round or better at the last four Slams.  And just a few weeks ago on grass at Queen’s Club, Botic was a semifinalist.  He may provide Nadal with his sternest test of this tournament yet, but defeating the 22-time Major champion, and ending Rafa’s bid for the calendar-year Grand Slam, would be extremely surprising.


Other Notable Matches on Monday:

Alex de Minaur (19) vs. Cristian Garin – De Minaur has only dropped one set to this stage, though he’s yet to face opposition ranked higher than 80th in the world.  Garin is into the fourth here for the second straight year, and also has only lost one set.  Alex leads their head-to-head 3-0, which includes a grass court contest right before this event in Eastbourne.

Elena Rybakina (17) vs. Petra Martic – Every set Rybakina has played in these Championships has been a tight one, but she’s yet to lose one.  Martic has also claimed all her sets thus far, which includes a victory over the eighth seed, Jessica Pegula.  Both players are vying for their second Major quarterfinal.  Elena is 1-0 against Petra, as she prevailed in two tiebreak sets a couple years ago in Dubai.

Taylor Fritz (11) vs. Jason Kubler (Q) – Fritz is on a seven-matchwin streak, dating back to his title run a week ago in Eastbourne.  Across the last two weeks, his serve has only been broken four times.  Kubler is a 29-year-old Australian who has been plagued by a heredity knee condition throughout his career.  He was 2-6 in the main draws of Slams prior to this fortnight.  At the 2018 US Open, Fritz was up two-sets-to-one over Kubler when Jason was forced to retire.


Monday’s full Order of Play is here.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending