Meet Giacomo Zilli
By Meredith Ristic
Anyone who sees him can tell that Giacomo Zilli is not your average freshman college basketball player. However, his teammates have their own view of him.
“The first time I ever saw Giac, I thought he looked exactly like Clark Kent,” said freshman teammate Alex Biggerstaff. “He really looks just like him; some of us still call him that.”
The Italian native stands at 6’9”, weighs 260 pounds, sports jet-black hair and wears horn-rimmed glasses that may resemble Superman’s daytime disguise, but it’s his personality that will have you believe it.
“He’s always talking about his honor,” said his roommate and teammate, freshman guard Ethan Wilmoth. “We always ask him why he never wants to skip class or anything like that, and he says it’s against his honor. He’s always doing the right thing.”
"Giac is everybody’s friend, that’s just how his personality is. He’s a guy that you can talk to about anything," Biggerstaff said.
“He is just the nicest dude I have ever met,” Wilmoth said. “Anytime we’re going somewhere, he’ll stop and get food, and he always calls me to offer me something, too.”
His coaches agree.
“Giacomo really is a gentle giant off the court,” laughed head coach Nick McDevitt, as he sat up straight and folded his hands in his lap. “And he is always so proper with everything.”
Growing up in Udine, something that has always been important to Zilli is a strong sense of family.
“All of our family lived really close together,” Zilli said. “My grandparents lived almost next to us, and my aunt and uncles and cousins lived on the same street, so they were always around when I was growing up.”
Zilli was used to be surrounded by the support of his family, so the decision to play college basketball in the United States was a difficult one for him.
“It was something I talked to my parents about; of course my mom wanted me to stay, but my dad really convinced me that it was a good opportunity for me,” he said.
Zilli’s easy transition to UNC Asheville came from a familiar feeling of family he finds in the basketball program.
“Asheville is really like a family; we have a great relationship with the coaches, and all of my teammates are like brothers,” he said.
When he came to visit, the campus was empty. He had to rely on his impression of the facilities, coaches and the food, Zilli said.
“One thing that Coach McDevitt said to me on my visit that really stood out to me was, ‘We don’t just want you, we need you and the things you have to offer, too,’” he commented.
"The family environment the guys create really helps the team to be successful. They care for one another, and that translates to their playing for each other and playing well together," McDevitt said.
“Everyone is so close to each other on the team, we’re always doing everything together,” Zilli said.
McDevitt and his staff are happy with what the program gained with Zilli.
“The first time I saw Giacomo play was at a tournament in Fayetteville the day of my press conference; it was April 26th,” McDevitt said. “My first impression is that he plays so hard; obviously he’s big, but he is such a competitor. He definitely has the will to win.”
While it may be known that Zilli is shy, considerate and proper off the court, his basketball family knows that all bets are off when he’s on the court.
“Giac is nice, but when it comes down to business, he gets his stuff done,” Wilmoth said. “If you are in his way in practice, he will definitely knock you down. He’ll help you back up afterward, but he will definitely knock you down.”
Everyone knows that post players have to be strong to hold their own under the basket, but Zilli’s known to lead with his physicality.
“I felt bad for anyone smaller than him that would have to guard him, because he would just physically manhandle them out of his way,” Biggerstaff said.
The next step to improve his play for the Bulldogs involves his footwork. He played in
“I think right now, I am more strong than smart on the court,” Zilli said. “I really want to work on my footwork, being faster and just reacting faster on the rebound.”
Zilli put in minutes for the Bulldogs this year, but to prepare for next season he’ll need to take his game to the next level. He played in 22 games this season for Asheville as a reserve post player. Zilli averaged 2.7 points and 1.6 rebounds per game.
“Like most bigs, his size has been enough for him to be successful before college. Now, the game has gotten faster, he’ll need his size and his footwork to be great,” McDevitt said.
We may never know if Zilli is actually Superman in disguise, or if his court presence will ever affect his personality, but with his basketball family as his support system he has a bright future at Asheville.