In theory, this blog doesn’t have a pre-established order of great players from the past of whom I will try to reminisce about during the season. There IS a long list, but my idea is to relate every week’s figure to one of the games that have taken place the previous or following days in Turkish Airlines Euroleague action, especially if it’s the Game of the Week. On Wednesday night I watched the game between Bennet Cantu and Olympiacos, with a great atmosphere in the gym, and from minute one I saw that this week I had to talk about Cantu and its greatest star ever, Pierluigi Marzorati.
The historic club of this small town near Milan officially makes his debut in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague this season, but the fact is that we are talking about the comeback of one of the European greats to the top competition. Cantu has 12 international trophies: 2 Champions’ Cups, 4 Cup Champions Cups, 4 Korac Cups and 2 Intercontinental Cups, plus three Italian Leagues and four Italian Cups. If someone only takes a look at the list of names of the winners of the old Europan Cups, he could be confused by the variety: Forst, Squib, Ford, Gabetti, Clear… But all of them make reference to the same club, Pallacanestro Cantu. The glory of a humble club founded in 1936 started with the first Italian League trophy in 1968. Borislav Stankovic, the future Secretary General of FIBA, was on the bench and Carlo Recalcati was its best player. The following season, at only 17 years old, a youngster named Pierluigi Marzorati arrived to the team. He was considered a great prospect for Italian basketball. With his arrival, the Golden Era of Cantu was just beginning.
Behind a skinny body, 1.87 meters tall, one could find a scorer with great technique and heavenly game vision. Pierluigi Marzorati (born on September 12, 1952) was one of those point guards who could score 25 points if needed, or just stay at 2 or 4 if his teammates only needed his perfect game conduction and assists that were half the basket. Right after his arrival he formed a lethal guard duo with Recalcati. In the following years, many good foreigners arrived to help build the great Cantu, but the Marzorati – Recalcati formula, backed by several other good Italian players, was the key to success. The foreigners came and went, but Marzorati and his Italian teammates were always there.
The first big success for the humble club was the 1973 Korac Cup. Under the name Forst Pallacanestro, the team from Cantu beat Maes Pils of Belgium in two games, with Recalcati (30 points) and Bill Drozdiak (24) as the stars, but Marzorati was already an important player. The following season, Forst defended the title by beating Partizan Belgrade in the final. In Cantu, they won 99-86 and in Belgrade, Cantu prevailed again 68-75. That was the first time I saw Marzorati live. In 1975, Forst won its third straight Korac Cup, this time against FC Barcelona 71-69 in Barcelona, with 16 points by Marzorati, and 110-85 at home as the great guard scored 27. That same year, in the EuroBasket played in Yugoslavia, I saw Marzorati again with the Italian national team and I remember a close defeat to the USSR 65-69 despite his 14-point effort. In March 1977 we met at a neutral ground, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, where Forst won its first Cup Champions Cup against Radnicki Belgrade 87-86, despite a great game by Srecko Jaric, the father of Marko Jaric, who scored 30 points and the late big man Milun Marovic (29 points), an engineer like Marzorati, who passed away three years ago in a car accident in Libya.
We met again at the 1977 EuroBasket in Liege, Belgium, where Italy reached the semis; at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow (the final was Yugoslavia 86-77 Italy); at the EuroBasket of France in Nantes (Italy’s first win against Spain by 105-96 with 12 points by Marzorati). Between 1977 and 1981, Cantu, under the names Forst, Gabetti and Squib, played five Cup Champions Cup finals and won four of them, only losing to its archrival in the 1980s, Emerson Varese (90-88) after overtime. In all the finals, Marzorati had a protagonist role, together with Recalcati, Antonello Riva, Fabrizioa dela Fiore, Renzo Bariviera, John Newman, Tom Boswell and Bruce Flowers. In the 1981 final, Cantu defeated the Barcelona of Juan Antonio San Epifanio, Chichi Creus, Nacho Solozabal, Chicho Sibilio, Jeff Ruland and Mike Philips.
But the best years for Cantu were yet to come. After a first failed attempt in 1975-76, when the team reached the semifinals but lost to nemesis Mobilgirgi Varese, on March 25, 1982, and after having just lifted its third Italian League trophy, Cantu managed to win the Champions Cup by beating Maccabi Tel Aviv in the final 86-80. Charles Kupec and Bruce Flowers where the best scorers with 23 and 21 points respectively, but the man of the game was Marzorati, who scored 18 points and won his particular duel with Maccabi playmaker Motti Aroesti.
In the 1982-83 season, Ford Cantu played the Champions Cup as the defending champ. Billy Milano had won the Italian League that year, so two Italian teams were in competition and they happened to meet in the title game. After a 40-minute drama, Cantu escaped with a 69-68 victory after a missed shot by Franco Bosselli with 3 seconds to go and the legendary block by Jim Brewer on Vittorio Gallinari after his own offensive rebound. The list of trophies was completed with two Intercontinental Cups from 1975 and 1982. The pictures of the great captain Marzorati with the trophy have a privileged spot in the club offices nowadays.
Comeback at 54 years old
Pierluigi Marzorati played with Pallacanestro Cantu from 1969 to 1991. He won 12 trophies, played 692 games and scored 8,659 points plus 2,209 in 278 Italian national team games. Looking at the calendar, he played for the club of his life over four decades. In October of 2006, the 70th anniversary of the club, and already at 54 years old, Marzorati came back to play against Benetton Treviso (70-69). His less than two minutes on court were a big homage to the great captain and also a curiosity for the history books.
After his retirement, Cantu suffered a lot and even descended into second division in 1994. The recovery was slow, but eventually, last season Bennet Cantu managed to reach two finals in Italy and earned the right to be back in the competition it first won 30 years ago. Cantu is back… Hopefully, other staple names in European basketball like Split, Limoges or Aris could do the same! Marzorati blamed the problems of Cantu on the Bosman Law and the excessive number of foreign players, which closed the door for many national talents. I spoke to him not long ago and he doesn’t have any doubt that the best players of his era could have played in the NBA with no problems. He didn’t want to give me any names, but he highlighted his great rivals in Dragan Kicanovic and Juan Antonio Corbalan. While he played, he finished his degree in engineering and today works for his own company. He does not have any spot in the club, but he never misses a Bennet Cantu game. His relationship with the sport continues through his involvement with the Lombary Olympic Committee, a regional organization of which he is the president.
Perluigi Marzorati, a Cantu legend.
( November , 2011)