From NBA Academy to Sweet 16, Santiago Vescovi thankful for opportunity with Vols
On the verge of playing in the Sweet 16 for the first time, Santiago Vescovi can’t help but think about his journey from Uruguay to the University of Tennessee.
Vescovi, who was born in Montevideo, began attending the NBA Academy Latin America in Mexico City at 16 years old. He then moved to the NBA Global Academy in 2019 and began to put his name on the basketball map there in Canberra, Australia.
Then 17, Vescovi led the NBA Global Academy to the championship in the NBA Academy Games in July 2019. He was also a standout in the G League International Challenge with Uruguay Elite a few months later as one of the youngest players in the event.
He was considered a three-star prospect by 247Sports and eventually fielded scholarship offers from several Division I programs, including Butler, Miami (Fla.), Rutgers and Tennessee.
He eventually committed to the Volunteers in November 2019.
Vescovi led all players in scoring in the G League International Challenge, averaging 12.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, three assists and 1.5 steals. (Photo via NBA Academy)
Now a senior, Vescovi is a key reason why the Vols are in the Sweet 16.
He was named to the All-SEC first team after averaging 12.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.8 steals on 37.1% shooting from 3-point range. He finished third in the SEC in 3-pointers (88) and third in 3-point percentage.
Vols coach Rick Barnes commended Vescovi for his overall ability.
He is a very versatile player. He impacts winning without ever scoring a basket. … I’ve said before: I don’t know of anybody who has been guarded any harder than he has been guarded all year long. People literally won’t leave him. He is a very smart player.
What he has done as much as anything is the way he has impacted the game on the defensive end. He went from a guy early in his career that people literally went after every game to where now he has been on the All-Defensive Team because he understands the game and understands how to impact winning.
Vescovi produced 14 points, five rebounds and five assists to go along with four 3s on Saturday in a 65-52 win over 5-seed Duke in the East Regional. He now has the fourth-most 3-pointers in program history in the NCAA Tournament (15).
He reflected on his journey following the victory.
First of all, I’ve got to say I’m definitely thankful to both the NBA Academy and the University of Tennessee for giving me the chance (being) here from South America. Basketball is big but not that big down there and having the chance that they gave me definitely — learning the language to where I’m at right now — has been a massive change.
The contest was a bit of a full-circle moment, too.
Vescovi had the opportunity to face Duke freshman Tyrese Proctor, who attended the NBA Global Academy in Australia. The two overlapped there for about half of a year when Proctor first arrived and they even spent time as roommates.
Proctor liked the chance to face Vescovi.
(It was) pretty cool. Lived with him for a while when he came over to the Academy, and it was just good matching up with him again back on a big stage.
The NBA Academy, which was started in 2016, is a year-round basketball development program that provides the top high school-age prospects from outside the United States with the necessary tools to unlock their skills in a variety of ways.
Vescovi and Proctor were among the 20 alumni of the NBA Academy that have appeared in the men’s NCAA Tournament this year from 15 countries. The program has helped 52 men and 42 women commit to or attend Division I schools in the U.S.
Vescovi is happy to see the program help so many players.
“Being able to see all those guys coming back and playing against each other at the high level here, I think it’s great,” Vescovi said. “I think it’s just amazing how the NBA Academy and Tennessee or Duke give the opportunity to kids that have a dream, that want to work hard every single day and bring whatever they can to the team.”
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