Health over hoops for tall teen
ROME — At 7-foot-6 (2.29 meters), 15-year-old Robert Bobroczkyi is already taller than New York Knicks sensation Kristaps Porzingis — or any other current NBA player.
He's got a nice shooting touch and solid passing skills, too.
So it's no wonder that Bobroczkyi is generating buzz among youth league scouts in Europe.
What the Romanian lacks, though, are any traces at all of muscle on his 184-pound (83.5-kilogram) frame. He runs awkwardly, and tires easily.
That's why the Rome academy where Bobroczkyi is based — the same youth club that produced Brooklyn Nets player Andrea Bargnani — has decided to dedicate this season exclusively to fitness and strength.
This being Italy, the recipe is simple: pasta, pasta and more pasta.
Following an individual nutrition plan created for him by specialists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, Bobroczkyi is eating more than 2 pounds of pasta per day.
"We're not interested in basketball right now. The top priority is his health," Stellazzurra Basketball Academy general manager Giacomo Rossi said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "For someone with his physical stature, the usual practice sessions are just not enough. He needs individual attention."
Having helped Stellazzurra to the under-15 national title in Italy last season, Bobroczkyi is sitting this season out and playing in only select tournaments.
"We've got to make sure that five years from now not only can he play basketball but that he's also a fairly normal person," Rossi said. "This is going to be a long and difficult season for him but it's also going to be the most important season of his life. Because every day, all day, he's following an individual project created specifically for him with a staff of physicians."
Bobroczkyi is living with a host family in Frosinone — about an hour drive south of Rome — near a fully equipped physical therapy and rehabilitation center. His nutritionist also works for the Frosinone soccer club in Italy's top division.
Here's an average day:
8 a.m. — Breakfast: 10.5 ounces of pasta, either plain or with tomato sauce; eight slices of toast with bacon and an egg.
9:30 a.m. — Snack: energy bar or drink
10 a.m. to 12 p.m. — Physical therapy: stretching, coordination, posture exercises
12 p.m. — Snack: energy bar or drink
1 p.m. — Lunch: 14 ounces of pasta, meat or fish, vegetables
2 p.m. — Rest
2:30 p.m. — Snack: sweets
3-5 p.m. — Gym: muscle strengthening
5:30 p.m. — Snack: sweets
6 p.m. — Rest
8 p.m. — Dinner: 10.5 ounces of pasta, meat or fish, vegetables, dessert
9:30 p.m. — Sleep
"He eats seven times per day," said physiotherapist Daniele Comandini, who is looking after Bobroczkyi. "He's not eating McDonald's or kebabs. That's banned."
Since he arrived in Rome last year, Bobroczkyi has gained 30 pounds. And he is still getting taller.
In August, Bobroczkyi visited with Child Health and Human Development specialist Lyssikatos Charalampos and other physicians at the NIH.
"They performed every possible exam on him," Comandini said. "He's in perfect health."
Bobroczkyi runs awkwardly because his hips are slanted.
"The problem with his hips is normal for someone of his height," Comandini said. "He grew so rapidly that his hips don't correspond with the other bones yet."
The hope is that once he stops growing and develops some muscles, Bobroczkyi will run normally.
"The conclusion at the NIH was that there is nothing wrong and it's all genetics," Comandini said.
That makes perfect sense considering that Bobroczkyi's father is 7-foot-1 and played on Romania's national team with Gheorghe Muresan — the 7-foot-7 giant who was the tallest NBA player in history.
Bobroczkyi's mother is also tall and was an accomplished handball player. And his 4-year-old sister Arianna was nearly an inch longer than him at birth.
Bobroczkyi started playing basketball at the age of 5, and his idol was Yao Ming.
"Now I have two," Bobroczkyi said. "Anthony Davis and Kristaps Porzingis."
Stellazzurra is being highly protective of Bobroczkyi, although the team did let him sit in on an interview with team officials. He speaks five languages — Romanian, Italian, English, Serbian and Hungarian.
Asked where he would like to play in the future, Bobroczkyi responded "Euroleague."
Team officials say Bobroczkyi has a high basketball IQ, and that's evident on videos of him circulating on the Internet. As you would expect, he blocks shots and easily shoots over shorter players. But he also shows strong passing skills, hitting cutting players who can easily finish layups as the defense concentrates on Bobroczyki.
"I think his greatest talent is his passing skills," Rossi said. "On defense, he intimidates. But he needs to have the body that can stand up over the course of an entire game. He's never going to be someone who can play all 40 minutes but he's got to be able to make an impact in the 20 minutes that he does play."
Bobroczkyi is scoring six to seven points per game.
Players with 20 different nationalities and four different religions are represented at Stellazzurra.
"There are a lot of different cultures here," club president Fabio de Mita said. "That's the strength of this place. We're a family."
"This is the best place for me to develop," he said.