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County Upper Basketball Academy player Nicolo Del Maestro secures scholarship with Graceland College in Iowa

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The County Upper Basketball Academy production line shows no sign of letting up this year with the news that Nicolo Del Maestro has earned himself an American basketball scholarship.

Del Maestro is the first and only male player heading Stateside this summer, yet overall he is the 45th player under coach Darren Johnson’s watch to have made such a move.

The 19-year-old, who up until recently lived in Bury St Edmunds, has accepted an invitation from Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa, for the 2022/23 season.

Nicolo Del Maestro has signed up to a USA scholarship. Picture: Mecha Morton
Nicolo Del Maestro has signed up to a USA scholarship. Picture: Mecha Morton

The Yellow Jackets play in the Heart of America Conference and are coached by Taylor Langley, who has just finished his first year at the helm.

Del Maestro said: “I feel very grateful and ecstatic about receiving the scholarship and the opportunity to go play in the States, as its always been my childhood dream.

“It was an extremely long process and I have been in touch with the assistant coach from Graceland since November.

The guard has thanked coach Darren Johnson (right) for all of his support. Picture: Mecha Morton
The guard has thanked coach Darren Johnson (right) for all of his support. Picture: Mecha Morton

“I believed that Graceland was the best fit for me, both academically and athletically. The coaching staff and facilities seemed incredible.

“My aim is always to improve in my craft and be the best version I can be. Of course my academic aim will be to graduate university and athletically I aim to contribute to the team as best as I can.”

Nicolo started his playing career in Italy playing for Cestistica Verona Basketball Club before his family moved to England and Cambridge when he was aged 14.

From there he turned out for the Cambridge Cats, for whom he was voted the team’s MVP at under-16 level after playing a key role in their East Conference Championship success.

The guard joined the County Upper Basketball Academy and the West Suffolk Wolves men’s senior side ahead of the 2019/20 campaign – and has been a mainstay in the Bury St Edmunds club’s sides since.

Ahead of switching to America, he said: “I am extremely grateful for all who helped me to get to this point.

“I’d like to thank my family who always supported me and encouraged me to seek new opportunities.

“I’m very thankful to my PE teacher Mrs Palacios who introduced me to this beautiful game and my physiotherapist Richard who helped me recover in many difficult times.

“I’m also grateful to all my team-mates for the amazing experiences shared with them. Finally, I’m extremely grateful to all the coaches that helped me develop as a player and as a person like coach Roby and Gus from Italy, coach Clinton and Matt from Cambridge and especially coach Darren Johnson who gave me this opportunity, guided me and helped me achieve my goal to get to the States.”

Coach Johnson, meanwhile, is confident Graceland is one of the best environments for Del Maestro to thrive.

He said: “I am so happy for Nicolo in that we have able to find him an opportunity to continue his basketball and educational career with a college in the USA.

“Nicolo grew up playing for Cambridge Cats Basketball Club and over the years we have helped many Cats players go on to play in not only the USA but also good UK university programmes.

“Nicolo is one of the nicest people you will meet, but also one of the hardest workers as well as one of the most driven and dedicated players.

“So it has been easy and a pleasure in helping him develop as a player and helping him to find a playing opportunity next year in the USA. Graceland will be a great fit for him and look forward to following his career next season.”