Provo • The BYU men’s volleyball program often uses its strong connections overseas, its tradition of success and its far-reaching alumni network to attract some of the best international players it can get.
But in the case of their latest foreign-born sensation, the Cougars got an assist from their own football program to land Davide (pronounced: DAH-Vee-DAY) Gardini, a 6-foot-9 outside hitter from Italy.
Gardini’s father, Andrea Gardini, was a well-known international volleyball star a few decades ago. He led Italy to three FIVB world championships and was a member of three Olympic teams. Andrea Gardini and some other members of the Italian national team’s coaching staff happened to be visiting BYU back in November of 2009 when they got tickets to the BYU-Utah rivalry football game.
Max Hall threw the winning touchdown pass to Andrew George in overtime, and the Cougars beat the Utes 26-23 at sold-out LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“I joke that that may have been the game that sold his dad on the environment here,” BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said. “Even then, Davide was just a young volleyball player, but we knew about him, and the genes that he has, and the volleyball tradition and history he comes from.”
So Olmstead and his staff started recruiting the teenager from Ravenna, Italy, who helped Italy’s U-19 team place second at the 2017 European Championships. Gardini earned the Best Outside Spiker award at the event.
Gardini, who has twice won the Off the Block national freshman of the week award this season, had offers from the likes of UCLA, Pepperdine and Loyola Chicago. But he chose BYU and a scholarship offer that will cover 50 percent of the costs, according to the website volleystory.com.
“I am going to say that BYU’s recruiting program is really good,” he said. “What they did to recruit us is awesome. They know what international guys are looking for. So they know what to show to us. At the end of the day, I felt like BYU was a place that really wanted me, and I when I came on my official visit, I felt like I had a good relationship with Shawn and the coaches, so I just liked this place the first time. That’s all I can say.”
That football game and his father’s visit almost 10 years ago wasn’t his only tie to BYU.
Former BYU men’s and women’s volleyball staffer Giuseppe Vinci was once on a coaching staff with Andrea Gardini in Italy and helped facilitate Davide Gardini’s visit in the fall of 2017. Former BYU assistant Luka Slabe saw Davide Gardini play in a tournament in 2017 and immediately recommended that the Cougars pursue him, Olmstead said.
“Giuseppe has done a lot of good work for BYU, creating some cool volleyball software programs [VolleyMetrics],” Olmstead said. “He has known Davide since he was 5 or 6 years old. So we had that connection for a long time.”
Heading into Thursday’s match against Stanford at Smith Fieldhouse (7 p.m., BYUtv), Gardini is second on the team with 115 kills and tied for third in blocks with 25. He’s one of four foreign-born players who are starting for the No. 9-ranked Cougars, joining middle blocker Miki Jauhiainen of Finland, opposite hitter Gabi Garcia Fernandez of Puerto Rico and Felipe de Brito Ferreira of Brazil.
“I was not too worried, honestly,” he said of the pressure that accompanies a big-time recruit his freshman season. “I was focused on working hard to get better and winning matches when the season started. I didn’t feel pressure at all. I think that I am doing my best and if I play well I am happy. I am just going to work hard and see what happens.”
Gardini began learning English in middle school and speaks his second language surprisingly well. Growing up, he played soccer, but “got too tall” for that sport and turned to the sport his parents played.
“When I decided to play volleyball, it was my decision,” he said. “My parents were glad, obviously. My dad was really happy. But it was my own decision. They never pushed me. So that was it.”
Gardini said getting accustomed to BYU and the United States was difficult last fall, partly because the volleyball season doesn’t start here until January and he was used to playing in September and October.
It also took some time to get used to the food until he discovered an Orem restaurant called MidiCi, which makes excellent Italian pizza.
“Little Caesars is not really the same thing,” he joked.
He also laughs at what Americans call Alfredo sauce, saying there’s no such thing in Italy.
“The food is challenging,” he said. “It has been hard to eat for me like I was in Italy. I wouldn’t say it was a big problem for me. During fall semester it was tough sometimes.”
As for the volleyball, Gardini said it is similar here, although U.S. college volleyball features better, more aggressive serving than overseas.
DAVIDE GARDINI AT A GLANCE
• Native of Ravenna, Italy, has twice been named national freshman of the week.
• Son of three-time Olympian Andrea Gardini, who led Italy to three FIVB world championships.
• Member of the U-21 Italian National Team in 2016 and 2017.
• Second on the team with 115 kills and tied for third in blocks with 25.