Greetings from Lucca, Italy

Sun forward Kayla Pedersen is spending the WNBA off-season playing in Lucca, Italy. Here is the first installment in a series of blogs about her experience.

I am writing to you from Lucca, Italy as I start my third month into the season. Lucca is a small town in Tuscany about 20 minutes north of Pisa. It is my second year playing here and I absolutely love it. This city is a hidden treasure, comprised of small cobblestone streets and surrounded by massive medieval walls. A mountain range produces Carrara marble towers over this area while Florence, the beach, and Chianti are not too far away.

My team is currently sitting undefeated at the top of the league with Chiney’s former team, Schio. Sure, it’s great to be winning, but the way we are winning is something special. It’s hard at the professional level to foster an environment of unselfishness and passion for each other but this is exactly what Lucca embodies. Each member of this team is selfless, and not just in the typical, “I don’t care who scores” type of way. It goes beyond that. I know that if I get beat on defense, a teammate will put her body on the line and draw a charge. I know that if I box out my opponent, another teammate will come in and grab the rebound. We give value to the little things, which is truly beautiful, and it’s the reason why I love this game so much.

We have adopted a special word to describe ourselves that I will keep private, as it is reserved for our little family (although I’m sure you can figure it out if you follow my Twitter or Instagram). This word is placed at a level higher than insieme (together) and we’ve each embraced it as our team identity. The mystery word means that we celebrate our captain scoring 30 points in the same way that we celebrate the girl who came back from ACL surgery to play for one minute. We celebrate our younger players throwing a behind-the-back pass as much as the double-double a starter fought hard for. Again, it’s a beautiful thing to be part of.

If you’ve watched me over the years, I’m a player that doesn’t show emotion. Nothing really fazes me, good or bad. It’s the way I’m wired; you can blame my gene pool. But these past two Lucca teams have changed me. I used to appear unimpressed after a win, especially if it was expected. But this team celebrates every single victory as if we had just won a gold medal. Initially, this bothered me. I would think, “Come on guys, we were supposed to win, let’s not act surprised.” But now I see that this is the main reason for our success. We live in the moment. Each game is the only game that matters. We value every second we have with each other. This is why it’s so special.

Life off the court has been just as fun. My team had a big Thanksgiving dinner at a sponsor’s house. Me and the other two Americans (Julie Wojta and my former Stanford teammate, Jillian Harmon) made two giant turkeys and the Italians contributed their own dishes to create an Italian Thanksgiving. It was very classy and I appreciated being able to get out of basketball clothes for an evening. Fortunately, one of my former teammates from Serbia visited a few days prior and we made her a mini-Thanksgiving dinner so I got my pumpkin pie and potatoes, too!

Next up is Christmas and I haven’t been home for this holiday in three years (sorry mom and dad!). I can’t wait to be back in the States and see all of the Christmas decorations in the shops and sip on hot chocolate around the tree with my family. It’s my favorite holiday by far. But before that, we have four big games coming up, including a game against Schio and another top team, Ragusa (Camille Little’s team). Now, I don’t know how those games will turn out. I am extremely confident that we will be focused, prepared, and eager to compete. And I hope that we can keep this streak going, but as I learned in college, you get everyone’s best game when you are sitting at the top. What I do know is that I can count on my team being ready and we won’t want to lose. We will fight together to the very last whistle and that’s enough of a reason to celebrate.

Buon Natale e Buone Feste! Arrivederci!