Brandone Francis listened intently to a question asked in Spanish and started his reply.
“Uh, I would say that a lot of the Florida stuff was … ” he didn’t finish his thought, as the journalist cut him off with a gentle reminder to respond “en Espanol.”
“Oh, yeah,” Francis laughed at himself, before continuing on in rapid, fluent Spanish.
Francis, a guard from the Dominican Republic, is one of nine international players from eight countries between his Texas Tech team and Monday’s national championship opponent, Virginia. The blending of cultures, while a hurdle at times, has been mainly an asset for both teams.
“It’s just nice to have people from different parts of the world. You can really ask them about their country, their homeland,” said Texas Tech forward Malik Ondigo, an Arizona native. “It just makes you more cultured, I would say.”
Ondigo recalled how when he first met Davide Moretti, his teammate from Italy, they hung out for about 40 minutes but said maybe four words to each other because of the language barrier.
Italy is the one country — besides the U.S. — the teams have in common. Texas Tech also has players from France and Russia, while Virginia sports players from New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and Guinea.
Virginia forward Mamadi Diakite, from Guinea, said he used his phone a lot for translation from French to English when he first arrived and didn’t know anything about college basketball until he started playing it.
“I try as much as I can to be involved in whatever they do, although I’m not that guy. It’s not the same culture. So I’d rather play soccer,” he said. “… I just started playing cards with them. I don’t even know the name of the game. But I play anyway, and they laugh every time. So I guess they’re enjoying it.”
Virginia center Francisco Caffaro is Argentinian but learned English in Australia, which is guard and teammate Kody Stattmann’s home country.
“When me and Kody say something that, it’s like Australian slang, [other teammates] will be like, ‘What are you talking about?’ ” Caffaro said. “And the same happened when they use, like, American slang. I’ll be like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ It happens a lot.”
Moretti has spread Italy’s finest export — cuisine — to his teammates, cooking them pasta and other Italian dishes the past two years. Cooking skills are something he has in common with Virginia forward Francesco Badocchi, who actually grew up playing with Moretti in Italy.
While Moretti has seen his family often the past couple of weeks thanks to the tournament, he usually only sees them in the summer and for a few days during the holidays. But being so far away from home hasn’t made him homesick in a long time.
“I felt like I wasn’t alone,” Moretti said of his team. “They made me feel like a family since Day 1.”