Basketball in the late 1990s and early 2000s in Bologna experienced a magical time. Virtus Bologna and Fortitudo Bologna were among the best teams in all of Europe, with one or both playing in five Euroleague Final Fours between 1998 and 2004 and Virtus taking the title in 1998 and 2001 as Kinder Bologna.
And growing up right in the middle of the city’s most influential period on the basketball map was Davide Moretti.
Moretti remembers seeing the likes of Manu Ginobili race up and down the courts for Virtus Bologna from 2000 to 2002 and Marco Belinelli play for both teams from 2002 to 2007. And the legendary Ettore Messina was coaching Virtus from 1997-2002.
“It was thrilling to watch these guys all the time,” recalls Moretti, who was born in 1998.
“There were so many people watching the game because the people of the city loved the sport so much – probably more than soccer. Basketball is the number one thing in Bologna. For a young guy, playing in a city like Bologna was a great thing. Everything is better for you because every fan supports you.”
In fact Moretti was born into Bologna basketball as his father Paolo Moretti played for both clubs – Virtus from 1992-1996 and then Fortitudo for the 1997-98 season.
And Davide’s birth actually came in the aftermath of one of the biggest moments of shame in the city’s storied basketball history. On March 24, 1998 – one day before Davide was born – Virtus and Fortitudo were playing the first leg of the Euroleague quarter-finals. With 2:10 minutes left in the blowout, a brawl broke out. Officials kicked out 10 players – seven from Fortitudo, including the entire bench as well as legendary Italian internationals Carlton Myers and Gregor Fucka. The Fortitudo reserves – including Paolo Moretti – were disqualified because they left the bench. Fortitudo ended up finishing the game with just three players for the final two minutes.
“My mother was there and said it was so funny that I was born on the night there was a fight,” Davide Moretti says.
The younger Moretti seemed destined for basketball as his father ended his playing career, which included a second place finish at EuroBasket 1997, in 2000 due to a knee injury at 29 years of age and then became a coach.
The elder Moretti had a number of different stops along the sidelines of Italy’s lower ranks before landing at Lega2 team Pistoia in 2009. He guided the team to the SerieA in 2013 and brought the club to the playoffs the next season, winning the league’s Coach of the Year award. After one more season with Pistoia, Paolo Moretti left to take over the head coaching spot at Varese in 2015.
While his father was working his way up the coaching ranks, Davide Moretti had already made a name for himself – playing for Italy at the 2013 FIBA U16 European Championship and averaging 12.7 points and nearly 3 rebounds and 2 assists a game – as a 15-year-old.
He played the 2013-14 season at the successful talent academy Stella Azzurra Roma, giving him a chance to play in the Euroleague Nike International Junior Tournament (now re-branded with Adidas as main partner) – a highly acclaimed U18 club tournament, holding his own at 15 years of age.
During the 2014 summer, Moretti played again for Italy – starring at both the FIBA U16 European Championship and the FIBA U17 World Championship.
Then for the 2014-15 season, Moretti made the move to join his father at Pistoia and he made his professional debut in October 2014 against Cremona at 16 years and 7 months.
“It was a dream for me,” Moretti recalled. “I knew if I wanted to play in the SerieA I had to work. I worked a lot every day. My dad never game me anything without work. But I was very excited. It was an very amazing time. For the first time I was playing with the best players in the Italian league.”
Moretti said the biggest thing he noticed was that the other players were all bigger, stronger and more athletic than he was.
“I knew I had to improve my physique and my athleticism. Everything. It was very good for me. I trained every day with them and I learned a lot from my teammates. I appreciate it that they worked with me.”
But after one season with Pistoia, Davide said it was time to leave – and also to go separate ways from his father, who was bound for Varese. Davide landed at second division Lega2 team Treviso Basket.
Moretti admitted that he had some problems on the court with his father on the sidelines – but “just like every coach”.
“I was able to talk with him about the problems and try to understand. It was a very good year. I love my father as a coach and everything he can do. He played and I know that he knows the game. That made it easier,” Davide said.
“But I wanted to take a step ahead with another coach and see what could be different and grow up at the same time. I grew up a lot last year so I’m happy with my decision.”
Moretti averaged 6.3 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists for Treviso, mainly making the transition to point guard from off guard.
“I think I can play both guard positions. My strength is shooting. I can shoot from three-point range, pull up and shot coming off the screen. I like shooting and I like the pick-and-roll and making extra passes for my teammates,” says Moretti about where his game is.
He knows he still needs to work on getting bigger as well as work on his left hand.
One of the main issues he dealt with at the end of last season was leading his team in front of a loud crowd. And Moretti needed to do that as Treviso reached the semi-finals of the second division playoffs.
“When you lead your team in the final minutes of the game it’s difficult to stay focused and make your team do what you and the coach want,” he said. “It was very difficult last year because I was only 17 years old and it was not simple. But I liked it. And I think I did a good job. But I can still get better.”
Moretti had another big experience this past summer, playing at the FIBA U20 European Championship along with established Italian players like Federico Mussini and Diego Flaccadori.
“I have played championships with guys one year older but never two years older. It was very interesting to me to understand the physical difference between the players. It was very important for me to develop – for my skills and everything,” said Moretti, who averaged 7.4 points, 1.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.3 steals.
He said he really learned a lot from Mussini and Flaccadori.
“They are players who are similar to me. They gave me some tips that are very important. They have more experience than me. They play at a high level. I am happy because they helped me even though I am younger than them. I appreciate that.”
Besides being an excellent guard talent, Moretti might next season have something else in common with Mussini – namely moving to the United States to play college basketball.
It is an increasing trend in Italy that talented youngsters leave their homeland looking for more playing time.
“You do not have a lot of chances in the first league to play as a young player. Yes, you can train every day with the team, so you improve for sure. But it’s different playing games,” Moretti said.
“In Italy, the clubs and coaches don’t give you this chance. It can be once or twice, but not every game. Maybe you will not play all the time in college your first year but still you play more than the first year with a first league team in Italy.”
Moretti is also considering the same option that Mussini choose – as did the likes of Nicola Akele, Pierfrancesco Oliva, Scott Ulaneo and Giacomo Zilli – all Italian youth national team players playing in colleges in the United States.
“I’m considering this option and at the end of the season I will decide if I want to go or not,” said Moretti, who has been linked with interest from Arizona State and Fordham.
“The best thing is that I can play. If I can play at a high level in the NCAAs then I would go. The American style is completely different. It can help you grow up a lot. I really am thinking about it. Even if a club here in Italy calls me and says they will play me as a young guy, I don’t know. I want to improve myself.”
Moretti said he is not thinking about the decision right now and actually has his father fielding calls of interest from college coaches.
“I don’t want to know what colleges are calling or interested in me. Right now I am focused on my season. We will talk about it at the end of the year – just like every year.”
When pressed about what he might be looking for in a college, Moretti did offer up the following: “I would be looking at schools that play in one of the biggest conferences so that I can play against the best players so I can improve my game and become a better player.”
He continued: “Also the coach must want me to play and help the team win and not to sit on the bench. I want to improve. These are the two main things – a big college or not, I want to play.”
It seems only fitting Moretti would perhaps play against teams like Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky after living through the likes of the Virtus vs Fortitudo Bologna derby.