By Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
Michelangelo Oberti was in the middle of dinner with his family when his phone rang.
Penn coach Steve Donahue wanted to check in on the 6-foot-10 forward from Morris Catholic, who had returned home to Italy just a week prior.
“What’s up Mike? What are you doing? Oh, we’re just eating. Oh, I had Italian yesterday,” Oberti recalls how the first part of the conversation went. Then came the words that changed his life: “We want to offer you.”
“I was in shock and disbelief,” Oberti said. “That was probably one of the best nights of my life.” Oberti said.
Oberti came to Morris Catholic in 2021-22 looking to open more opportunities to continue his basketball career. Oberti also received an offer from Rider and said he had interest from other programs in the Patriot and Ivy League.
Penn began recruiting him consistently in June and watched him play multiple times with Morris Catholic and the All In Beasts.
Morris Catholic 2024 forward Michelangelo Oberti committed to Penn earlier this month. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
The Quakers provided the athletic and academic environment he came to the U.S. searching for. He announced his commitment to Penn on Sept. 16, becoming the Quakers’ first 2024 recruit.
“Getting the offer from UPenn, it was everything I ever wanted from a school,” Oberti said. “I came to the states specifically to play in college, and I always really wanted to focus on school too. I think UPenn just completely fits what I wanted. I don’t think there could have been a better place for me.”
Oberti’s family lives on Lago d'Iseo in the northern part of Italy. He comes from a tall family — his mom played for the Italian national volleyball team — and started playing hoops at age 7 competitively for his little hometown team. By age 13, Oberti moved to the city of Bergamo to play for the local club team and only saw his family, who lived about an hour away, on the weekends. Two years later, he headed to the U.S.
Oberti’s older brother Leonardo, played hoops and came to the U.S. trying to carve out a path to college hoops. He arrived at Camden Catholic (N.J.) just before the COVID-19 pandemic and had his stint in America cut short, ending that dream.
“I always followed him a little bit, things my brother did,” Oberti said. “Now, he unfortunately doesn’t play basketball any more, but I feel like I’m living his own legacy. When UPenn offered me and he was sitting there, I saw in his eyes that that’s what he wanted. I’m living his dream, and I want to keep that alive for him.”
The adjustment to Morris Catholic wasn’t too difficult for Oberti. He had experience living away from home, and he already spoke English well. He learned the language as a child while watching PewDiePie videos on YouTube.
Oberti was a key piece on Morris Catholic’s 21-6 team as a sophomore, averaging 9.1 ppg, 8.7 rpg and 1.8 bpg. He was the team’s centerpiece during an 18-9 junior campaign, in which he averaged 16.9 ppg, 11.4 rpg and 2.9 bpg.
“Second year, the team kind of got shifted into my hands, became a captain junior year, sole captain,” Oberti said. “That’s when I stepped it up. When the season was done, after that it was just work, hard work, hard work, hard work everyday. It was in between the middle of the school season to the summer onwards. Between there, I just elevated my game. Now, it’s going to be even better.”
Oberti is already 6-foot-10 but said at only 17, he still thinks he may have a few inches to grow. He is long and lanky with good body control and is an impact defensive and offensive player. He can anchor a team inside or slide out to play forward.
“(Penn) likes the size obviously,” Oberti said. “I have very good footwork. I think that’s something a lot of colleges look for, especially in bigs. I have a good handle. I have a good shot, and I have a lot of potential. I keep on working, and I think my work ethic and that I want to get better, I think that’s something that a lot of colleges want.”
Princeton was another one of the schools recruiting Oberti. He got to see the Quaker in action against the Tigers during a visit to Jadwin Gymnasium this past season. Oberti said Penn junior 6-foot-9 forward/center Nick Spinoso caught his eye. Spinoso averaged 8.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 3.1 apg for the Quakers last season, including an 11-point, four-rebound outing in the game Oberti attended.
“I remember seeing Nick play, and I think he’s a really good player, and I think they want to model me after that,” Oberti said. “I think I’m a little taller than him and maybe a little more agile — because he’s big, he’s strong, he’s a unit — but I think that’s what they want for me, being big and solid and contributing to the team. Be there as a presence in the paint, getting rebounds. Being a good solid presences that helps the team get in a motion.”
The Quakers don’t have much front court experience behind Spinoso on the roster this season. Sophomore 6-10 forward Johnnie Walker played in 25 games and averaged 1.9 rpg and 1.0 ppg in 9.7 minutes per game at Cal State-Northridge last season. Sophomore 6-foot-9 forward Chris Ubochi didn’t see any action as a freshman at Penn. Freshman 6-foot-9 forward Augie Gerhart (Hill School) is the only other big man on the roster.
Oberti will have time to figure out how exactly he fits into Penn’s plans in the future. In the present, he’s happy to celebrate a dream come true.
“The main thing is that you can make it,” Oberti said. “I started off playing for a little, little, little team for my hometown. Then I moved up to the city, started living alone in the dorms when I was 13. That was a rough transition but if you want it, if you work for it and if you stick with it, you can make it.”