WICHITA FALLS, TX (KAUZ) - The Hirschi Huskies are having a strong season, even by their high standards. They're 19-8, ranked 7th in Class 4A.
One player, a senior, doesn't lead them in points or rebounds, but his journey to Wichita Falls is pretty remarkable.
When Italian exchange student Pietro Lazzarotto showed up in Donald Hedge's gym, the Hirschi coach noticed two things quickly.
"Well, he's big and he's skilled," he recalled. He's big, and he's skilled."
Pietro's been fitting in well to a team that has state-title goals for this season.
"It's hard to get inside the team, but I think that now it's really kinda working," he said. "So it's really good and everything's better."
Lazzarotto is new to Wichita Falls, but his family is not. His older sister, Greta, is a leader on the Midwestern State University tennis team!
She's entering her third year at MSU, and also spent her junior year of high school as an exchange student in Georgia.
"I've always had a passion for America," she said. "I've been here with my family, that was in 2012, before I came here, so I had an idea of how America was."
She said her tales of her own experience convinced Pietro to follow in her footsteps, and he says her presence is a welcome reminder of home.
"At first, I didn't know the language," Pietro said. "So I mean, having my sister here was kinda like being home. So I never missed home."
"Well I'm the big sister, so he just kinda heard the story so many times," Greta said. "He saw--he lived--my experience. He really saw my improvements, and how excited I was about this experience, and he just wanted to do it, too."
Having the two of them together also eased any concerns their parents had about sending their kids to the other side of the world.
"I would like to do this experience, in the U.S." Pietro said. "And I would like to be close to my sister so that if something happened and something goes wrong, we could help each other."
"Any time he needs me, he can just call me and I'm like, 10 minutes away," Greta said. So it's way different that being on the other side of the world."
For Pietro, the adjustment has also come on the floor. Instead of the European-style game he was used to, he's learning a more physical, inside-out style of play.
"He played more of a perimeter out there," said coach Hedge. "For us, at 6'7", yes you can play some perimeter. But you've got to be able to help us around the basket some. Defensively, you're going to have to guard the biggest guy on the other team. That's just the fact of the matter."
The biggest difference Pietro sees is the atmosphere around the games. Italy, like much of the world, doesn't have high school or college athletics.
"When you go to the game, and there's all the people in the stands, that's amazing," he said. "In Italy, when you go to the game, usually there are a few parents and not every time. So that's one of the things I really like about America."
Pietro and the Huskies host rival Burkburnett Tuesday night at Hirschi Fieldhouse...
Greta and the 11th-ranked Mustangs have some time off before visiting North Central Texas College a week from Wednesday.