Who’s Gabriele Procida? Why the Detroit Pistons pick may go from unseen to NBA draft steal

Detroit Free Press

It’s easy for Gabriele Procida to stand out in a room.

His 6-foot-7, 190-pound frame has been unmistakable in a crowd for a while. Procida, who turned 20 on June 1, reached that height right around age 15 while playing youth basketball for Pallacanestro Cantù in Italy. Occasionally, his team practiced with Cantù’s professional team, where his stature still made him one of the tallest in the room.

Ike Udanoh remembers the first time he saw Procida take the practice courts.

“He was literally almost the exact same size (as me), maybe minus a few kilos,” said Udanoh, who played center at Wayne State from 2009-12 and has played professionally in Europe ever since. “I’m like, ‘If at 15 or 16 he’s that type of size, he could be really good.’”

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Procida’s journey led him to the NBA draft last Thursday where, unlike the beginning of his career, all eyes weren’t on him.

The Detroit Pistons drafted Procida with the No. 36 pick in the second round, hours after the team took Jaden Ivey at No. 5 and traded for Jalen Duren at No. 13. Because of its first-round moves, many draft experts declared Detroit as one of the draft’s biggest winners, but the Procida selection mostly went unnoticed. Even the Pistons’ own Twitter account hasn’t mentioned him joining the organization. Nonetheless, those who’ve seen Procida play think he has the potential to be more than just a second-round afterthought.

When he continued practicing with Pallacanestro Cantù, more of Procida’s game stuck out to Udanoh, who now plays for SIG Strasbourg in the French Pro A League. His physique was one thing, his shooting ability was another, but Procida’s mental approach to the game was far above his age.

“He didn’t have fear when he played with us,” Udanoh said. “We didn’t (practice with) a lot of young guys … but, in my opinion, he was better than 11 to 12 guys on our roster. He just was fearless, he just played his game. Usually, the young guys out there, they’re (scared), there’s very few who aren’t afraid. He’s just one of those guys.”

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In 2019, the 17-year-old Procida made his professional debut with Pallacanestro Cantù. He appeared in just seven games as a rookie, recording nine points and three rebounds in just 28 total minutes. His role grew in his sophomore season, when he averaged 6.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and nearly 40% from 3 in 28 games.

On Jan. 24, 2021, in a 107-83 loss to VL Pesaro, Procida became the third-youngest player in Lega Basket Serie A history to score at least 24 points in a game.

Later that year, Procida declared for the NBA draft but ultimately opted to return to Italy, signing a multi-year deal with Fortitudo Kiğılı Bologna in Italy’s top league, Serie A. Just like when he first arrived at Cantù, Procida turned a few heads there.

“I thought, ‘Who’s this kid?’” said Jabril Durham, who played for Arkansas from 2014-16 and has played for seven European pro teams, including Fortitudo last season. “At the end of practice, he was monkey dunking on everybody. I was like, ‘Man, are you sure he’s Italian?’”

Durham said that Procida was pretty quiet off the court when he first came to Fortitudo. As the season progressed, his personality shined through, and the “cool Italian kid” quickly built a reputation as one of the more energetic and charismatic figures on the team.

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In 26 games last season, Procida served as a bright spot for the 9-21 Fortitudo squad, averaging 7.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 38.3% from 3. After redeclaring for this year’s draft, he attended the combine in May and ran a 3.02-second three-quarter court sprint, tied for the fastest among all attendees.

Durham remembers Procida being one of the earliest to arrive for pregame shoot-arounds last. To Durham, that was Procida’s way of saying he was ready to compete with the league’s veterans.

“He’s a hard working guy,” Durham said. “Every possession, he wants to dominate. He’s got that NBA swagger already. … I used to call him young Bodgan. If you know anything about (Bogdan Bogdanović), he got drafted and went back to Europe for a few years, then came back to the NBA and (signed a $27 million deal with Sacramento). He can shoot just as well as Bogdan, and he’s for sure more athletic … so he’s gonna fit right in.”

The Pistons are likely to treat Procida as a draft-and-stash, just as Bogdanović was after getting picked in 2014. This move would keep Procida much closer to his home of Como, Italy, for the next few seasons, delaying his over 4,000 mile journey to Detroit.

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Udanoh thinks that approach would be beneficial, as it would allow Procida to get his body more NBA ready. Udanoh, a Warren Woods Tower product who helped Wayne State win the GLIAC championship in 2010, found out Procida was selected by his hometown team while late-night scrolling through Instagram.

There’s about a six-hour time difference between Detroit and Udanoh’s current home in Italy, so it took a while for the news to reach him. But once he saw it, he immediately reached out.

“I shot him a little message, congratulating him and telling him what he can look forward to in Detroit,” Udanoh said. “I think if he’s given an actual opportunity, he could be really good for the city, really good for the team.

“And more than anything, he’s just a really good kid, man. (You want) that really good character guy for the team, and he’s bringing that for sure.”

Chandler Engelbrecht is a reporting intern at The Detroit Free Press and can be reached at CEngelbrecht@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @ctengelbrecht.

Next up: Summer League

What: NBA Las Vegas Summer League.

Tipoff: July 7-17; Cox Pavilion and Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas.

Pistons’ schedule: Trail Blazers, midnight July 7; Wizards, 6 p.m. July 9; Pacers, 9 p.m. July 12l Cavaliers, 5:30 p.m. July 14.

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