Sibling rivalry: Twin Italian exchange students play for SMN, SMNW boys basketball teams
For the first time since Riccardo and Vittorio Masina started playing basketball three years ago, their opponents won’t be seeing double on the court.
As expected, the 6-foot-5 dark-haired identical twins are hard to tell apart.
“We’ve always been on the same team, and if one of us is like double-teamed, the defenders get confused,” Riccardo said. “It was pretty cool.”
But that won’t be happening this year.
The Italian exchange students are playing for different teams and attending different schools for the first time: Riccardo is at Shawnee Mission Northwest, and Vittorio is at Shawnee Mission North.
In the hopes of separating them from each other and their language, the Masina family decided to send the brothers to different schools.
“We wanted to learn the language and not speak Italian,” Vittorio said with his thick accent. “Being together, we would be speaking it all the time.”
“We also didn’t want to have the same friends and experiences.”
The Masina brothers joined the district in August and are halfway through their American high school senior year.
Both say they’re enjoying the food, the people and the school system, with Chipotle Mexican Grill among their favorites.
The pair decided to play basketball at their respective schools but are only eligible to play junior varsity until after the new year per Kansas State High School Activities Association requirements. They are both expected to join the varsity squads in January.
Riccardo, the older and larger twin by about two minutes and 10 pounds, will play the guard position for the Cougars, while Vittorio is expected to play as a forward for the Indians.
“I wish I could play varsity because I think it would be fun, but I’m enjoying playing JV,” Vittorio said. “Our team is really good, and I can help my team by playing for them.”
It took some time for Vittorio to get his game legs under him, SM North coach B.J. Hair said.
Vittorio let his nerves get the best of him during his first game as an Indian, he said.
“He put a lot of pressure on himself and was really tight and tense,” Hair said. “It was the expectation that he had put on himself that he should be really good.”
Either way, the 17-year-olds averaged around 10 points a game in their junior varsity appearances.
Riccardo and Vittorio only started playing basketball three years ago as freshmen in their hometown near Bologna, Italy.
Former rugby players in middle school, their accounts vary on why they picked up the sport, but each goes back to their father, a former basketball player himself.
Riccardo says their dad pushed them into the sport, but Vittorio attributes it to a trip the three made to Florida to watch an NBA game.
“We really liked it and started playing,” Vittorio said. “We liked it because it’s the kind of sport that you get good at if you work and we really started to work hard and practice everyday.”
They practiced together for two hours everyday during the offseason and always played on the same teams.
Used to feeding off of one another, being at separate schools and not having each other on the court was another adjustment the athletes had to make.
“I knew where he was going to be outside for a shot, and I would take the drive and he would be there,” Riccardo said of when the two played together. “It’s pretty weird in school because I take the same drive and it’s like: Where is he at? Oh he’s at North.”
Both athletes said they had to adjust to the other’s absence and the way basketball is played here because it only slightly resembled what they were used to back home.
“It was kind of weird, and it was like a different sport,” Riccardo said of the physicality and the athletic talent he witnessed on the court. “It took a bit of time to get used to, but now I’m adjusting and I like it.”
SM Northwest senior Marcus McNeace said Riccardo’s more “fundamentally sound” than his teammates and has a different shot selection, like his brother.
He tends to fade away from the basket a bit more than other players but he can shoot the ball well enough to get away with it, SM Northwest coach Mike Rose said.
“I think a lot of times you hear overseas it’s not as physical as it is over here and kids tend to fade away a little bit more, and I do notice he does,” Rose said. “But it’s nice having a 6-foot-5 guy in the guard position, and if you’re able to hit that shot go ahead.”
SM North senior Scott Johnson said Vittorio is very offensively aggressive in looking for an open shot.
“He attacks the basket, and he likes to step up for jump shots a lot,” he said.
“He’s not just a pop-up shooter,” Hair said, referring to Vittorio. “He is someone who can shoot it off the dribble and, as long as he is, he can get to the rim and he finishes really well.”
The twins have made an impression both on and off the court as friendly and outgoing, always smiling.
“He’s fun to yell at because he just always smiles,” Hair said. “He’s hilarious to coach, too.”
They’re also very talkative, but sometimes it’s difficult for their teammates and coaches to understand what they are saying.
“When he gets deep into practice or the games you can’t understand a word he’s saying,” SM Northwest senior Luke Fields said of Riccaro’s accent. “ Sometimes he speaks up in practice and everyone is like, ‘What did you say?’”
Aside from missing the other on the court, when individually asked if they miss each other, each responded, “No, not really”.
“We are still pretty close,” Vittorio said. “I miss him a little bit, but I get to see him pretty often and I get to text, so I guess no, not really.”
With about five months left in their stay, Riccardo and Vittorio have a few things they’d like to accomplish before they leave in May.
Riccardo’s goal is simple: He wants to go to Worlds of Fun.
Vittorio has two things in mind: Go to prom and beat his brother in the final game of the season.
“Beating my brother is one of the things I want to do, and the prom is the other because we don’t have anything like that in Italy,” Vittorio said. “I always saw that in movies, and I’m pretty curious and excited. I think it’s going to be fun.”
The athletes will get their chance on the court when the Indians play the Cougars on Feb. 22 at SM Northwest in the final game of the regular season. Both Hair and Rose joked that they would make the boys guard each other.
“I really want to beat my brother,” Vittorio said. “That would be really cool to do before I leave.”