The Washington Post
Terps’ Pinzan has learned to fit in while standing out
Abby Meyers just wanted to help her new teammate out. She knew Elisa Pinzan was born and raised in Murano, Italy, and thought she could hook her up with some quality food that reminded her of home.
“Abby was like: ‘Hey, you’ve got to go to Noodles & Company. That place is going to change your life,’ ” Pinzan said with a laugh. “I went there once and am eating this food and I’m like: ‘What the! Why did Abby suggest me this?’ So the next day I saw her. . . . I was like: ‘ Abby, you know where I’m from? I’m from Italy!’ And she was like, ‘ You don’t get it.’ I said: ‘I don’t get it? You don’t get it!’ ”
Meyers chuckled and acknowledged the error of her ways as she recounted the incident: “I know,
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that was my first mistake.”
The duo have grown close during the school year — watching Netflix and listening to Justin Bieber — as a pair of transfers to a Maryland team that is No. 5 in the Associated Press poll and the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten tournament. The Terrapins will face sixth-seeded Illinois in a quarterfinal game Friday.
Both Pinzan and Meyers went to College Park for their final seasons in hopes of ending their college careers in front of bigger crowds and with a deep run in the NCAA tournament. They are two of the four transfers who were immediately thrown into the fire to replace five of the top six scorers who departed from the 2021-22 team. While Meyers, Brinae Alexander and Lavender Briggs are three of the Terps’ top five scorers, Pinzan has quietly started every game at point guard and has been a steadying force among her more boisterous teammates.
Every transfer has a story, but Pinzan’s spans the Atlantic Ocean and includes leaving her family behind, learning a new language and dealing with an unexpected medical scare. Oh, and then there was a major adjustment for her taste buds.
Pinzan, who played for multiple Italian national teams growing up, committed to South Florida without ever having been to the United States. She didn’t speak any English. Her mother, father, brother, grandfather and uncle all played basketball in Italy, and Pinzan always dreamed of playing college ball in the United States. South Florida had several international players within the program, so there was a comfort level there.
The first three months, however, were an adventure. She taught herself to speak English without a tutor and with the help of several books. Pinzan’s father gave her Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie’s “Don’t Let the Lipstick Fool You: The Making of a Champion,” but the process was exhausting. It would take an hour to read a single page as she made notes in Italian on the pages. She would watch Netflix with subtitles and write down 20 words a day to help learn the language. Early classes were a challenge;
Pinzan would stare at the walls since she couldn’t understand the professor.
“I couldn’t speak with anybody. I couldn’t understand anybody talking to me,” Pinzan said. “My dad still jokes with me when I go back home or when he hears me speaking English. He was just like: ‘You didn’t know a word. What’s going on?’ Dad, I learned!”
On top of learning a new language, Pinzan felt a pain in her groin in October of her freshman year while she did squats in the weight room. Trainers couldn’t find an issue, but there were days she couldn’t even walk, let alone run, so they decided to get an MRI exam. Eventually, a mass was discovered in her abdomen that was pressing against a nerve and causing the pain elsewhere. Surgery was required in this new country, and Pinzan could barely understand everything that was happening because of the language barrier. Her father flew in from Italy, and the surgery was a success.
Over the course of her USF career, Pinzan was named the
American Athletic Conference’s most improved player as a junior, scored nearly 1,000 points and led the conference in assists as a senior. After four years, Pinzan wanted an opportunity to play on a bigger stage, and Maryland Coach Brenda Frese was looking for a pure point guard. A pair of phone calls and a video teleconference with the staff led to Pinzan committing without ever visiting campus. She surpassed 1,000 career points this season and is second on the team in assists.
“She’s a really high-iq type of point guard and just really knows how to run a system,” Frese said. “As we put a lot of new things in this year, she grasps really quickly and understands her role and wants to get everyone involved. When things are super hectic, she can calm us down.
“To come over to a different country, a different culture, learn the language, that’s why she has been successful and why she’ll continue to be so successful in the future. She did some really hard things.”
While Pinzan is living her
dream, she is also close to her family and doesn’t get to see them much. Trips home are limited, and a family member usually comes out to spend the winter holiday break with her. Pinzan’s brother Luca flew over in December, and they went to New York for the first time, hitting all of the normal tourist attractions while marveling at all the people on the streets.
Luca remembers sharing a room with his curly-haired little sister and competing on a small mini-hoop in the room when they were children. Now she’s the best player in the family with hopes of being drafted in the WNBA or playing professionally back home.
But Luca does have a concern after his little sister tried to sell him on a meal that didn’t sit well with him, leading to a bit of a disagreement.
“What she says about the food is starting to bother me. I’m pretty worried about it,” Luca said with a smile. “. . . I think she’s getting used to American food. And I don’t know what to do.”