June 10, 2008
The Nova Notebook, by Villanova director of media relations Mike Sheridan, appears weekly during the fall and into the basketball season and periodically from May through August. In this entry we spend time with a recent Villanova graduate now making his way as a professional.
He logged his last minute of college basketball in March of 2007 in Villanova's first round NCAA Tournament loss to Kentucky at Chicago's United Center. But his name was invoked so regularly by a former sidekick in 2007-08 on the Main Line that it sometimes felt as though a part of him was still present.
Such was the impact Mike Nardi had on Scottie Reynolds in their only year of sharing the Villanova backcourt. As the native of Herndon, Va., morphed into a team leader at point guard as a sophomore in 2007-08, the specter of his former mentor was seldom far from Reynolds' mind.
"Mike Nardi taught me so much about what it means to be a Villanova guard and a leader," Reynolds said at the close of the '07-08 campaign.
Though he spent his winter an ocean away in Italy, Nardi did all he could to keep tabs not just on Reynolds but on the entire group of young players he and fellow seniors Will Sheridan, Ross Condon and Curtis Sumpter helped nurture. There were frequent emails and texts exchanged with head coach Jay Wright, Reynolds, Dante Cunningham and a number of other of his former teammates as well as Corey Fisher, like Nardi, an alumnus of St. Patrick's (N.J.) High School.
"I watched a lot of games early in the year and then saw quite a few BIG EAST games late in the season," says Nardi, now preparing for his second professional season at home in Linden, N.J. "Coach always wanted us to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season and that's what this team did. It was fun to watch them grow. They did a great job, especially being so young."
And, yes, Nardi paid particular attention to Reynolds' growth as the once-deferential freshman he met in the summer of 2006 emerged as a vocal on-court floor general.
"Scottie always was a great listener and to see him become the kind of leader Coach wants gave me a good feeling," he states. "You feel like you kind of passed the torch."
One season into his professional career, Nardi sounds content in his new basketball surroundings. Thanks to his family's roots, he is considered to be a native of Italy, meaning he does not count against the limit of two foreign players per squad in Europe. His first season was productive individually - he averaged 12 points and four assists per game - but less satisfying from a team standpoint as his RB Montecatini squad endured a long year.
Yet the good news is that Nardi's play earned him a promotion: he recently inked a two-year deal to play in Naples in a league considered to be a notch above the competition he faced in his rookie debut.
"As a team, it was kind of a difficult year for us," he says. "Our coach got fired and we didn't jell like we had hoped to. But I felt more and more comfortable as the year went on. I learned a lot.
"The whole experience was just real exciting. People kept asking me if I was homesick but that never really was an issue for me. I tried to embrace the lifestyle. The people there live life to have fun. It's very relaxed and there isn't as much commotion as I was used to. I'm kind of a relaxed guy, so it was a good fit for me."
Nardi stayed connected to the U.S. via the internet and well-timed visits from home. His mother, Sheila Surma, made two visits and assorted other family members were by as well. Former Seton Hall center Grant Billmeier, his childhood friend and former teammate at St. Patrick's, made the trip too.
"It really went by fast," he says.
After his season ended, Nardi returned home to New Jersey. He took the month of May off to give his body a chance to rest and recently resumed workouts designed to prepare him for his second season overseas, which gets underway with a training camp in August. In the interim, the 6-2 guard is hoping to land a roster spot in the NBA's Summer League next month.
In addition to his on-court work, Nardi is presently toiling on another labor of love. Billmeier and Nardi have teamed up to produce a youth basketball camp in late July. It will take place the week of July 28th at Timberlane Middle School in Pennington, N.J. Youths from fourth grade through middle school are eligible to attend.
"Grant grew up in Pennington and we have talked a lot about how we could give something back to the community," says Nardi. "We thought this would be a great way to do that."
Information on the camp is available at hopewellbasketball.net.
Not long after he returned to the states, Nardi paid his first visit to the Davis Center. It's a facility he hopes to take more advantage of as his schedule permits this summer.
"It's always good to catch up with the guys," he says.
Quite clearly, his impact is still being felt, most notably in the play of his former sidekick.