Men’s Basketball’s Felipe Palazzo: Sports provide a common language for international students at Oregon State

Sitting+alongside+teammate%2C+center+Chol+Marial%2C+guard+Felipe+Palazzo+cheers+for+his+team+in+a+tough+game+against+UCLA+on+February+9+in+Gill+Coliseum.+

Lily Middleton

Sitting alongside teammate, center Chol Marial, guard Felipe Palazzo cheers for his team in a tough game against UCLA on February 9 in Gill Coliseum.

Benjamin Rabbino, Sports Chief

Many international student-athletes have to leave their home country and acclimate to the norms and standards of the area they move to. Of course, this can present many challenges.

For Felipe Palazzo, a 6’4” 21-year-old guard on the men’s basketball team at Oregon State, his immigration journey from Argentina led him to his new family, and in doing so, marked him as the first Argentinian player to play for the Beaver program.

Born in San Miguel de Tucuman, Argentina, and raised by his parents Felipe and Maria, Palazzo found that the country’s national game of soccer was not made for him. 

“Well, my country, Argentina, is a really big soccer country. Especially now, everybody’s talking about it at home because we won the World Cup,” Palazzo said. “When I was little, I started playing soccer and I was not good at it.”

Not letting his lack of soccer talent halt his aspirations of becoming a professional athlete, Palazzo knew there were other options and became aware of local basketball opportunities around him.

“It was just a hobby when I was a kid. But then it started getting more serious, especially when I joined the pre-national team. I started getting into it when I was like 14 or 15 years old when I went to play for the pro team and thought, ‘You know, I can get a contract.’”

Starting at a young age helped Palazzo progress both physically and mentally around tough competition.

Traveling to the neighboring countries around Argentina to play with his pro team, Palazzo started to gain experience of what it was like to not just play for a team but to work as a team.

“I was on a good pro team and that’s when I started growing and learning what being around older people was like,” Palazzo said.

Being the captain of his state team for seven straight years, Regional Champion in 2014, 2016, and 2018, being named MVP of the Regional Club Championships in 2016, and helping Estudiantes de Tucuman to 18 total championships, Palazzo experienced much success playing at a pro-level before getting scouting to play collegiate basketball in Fort Lauderdale.

“I first went to Florida, to a little school called Nova Southeastern University in 2020. In Argentina, we start our classes in March and finish in December, because our summer is right now, so I came to Florida with no notes or anything,” Palazzo said.

His first experience coming to America was not what he was expecting, as the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March of 2020 and all basketball activities were cut short at Nova Southeastern University as well as all other campuses across the nation.

During the downtime he had, Palazzo was able to get in contact with the associate head coach of the Beaver’s program Kerry Rupp, who reached out to him, along with head coach Wayne Tinkle and assistant coach Stephen Thompson.

“That’s why I decided to come to Oregon State in 2021,” Palazzo said of the commitment and loyalty he felt from the Beaver staff.

Approximately 6,135 miles separate Corvallis, Ore. from San Miguel de Tucuman, Argentina. While the Willamette Valley is home to a relatively mild climate with warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters, Argentina’s climate differs slightly.

In San Miguel de Tucuman, the wet season is warm and humid, the dry season is comfortable, and it is mostly clear year round. Over the year, the temperature typically varies from 47 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit and is rarely below 38 degrees Fahrenheit or above 97 degrees Fahrenheit.

“It was a complete change to my life. I was coming to a place that I didn’t know,” Palazzo said. “The difference between Corvallis and Miami is that in Miami there are a lot of Latino people. A lot of my friends go to Miami for vacations. Nobody comes to Oregon on vacation from Argentina.”

Dealing with isolation and uncertainty over his first few days with Oregon State, Palazzo knew he had to take matters into his own hands.

“Building my person from zero to what I am today was a long journey, but I’m happy for all the people that I met, all the things that I did,” Palazzo said.

While acknowledging a variety of differences between OSU and his hometown, certain aspects of Corvallis stood out to Palazzo while he got used to how this college town operates weekly.

“We’re a PAC-12 school and I feel that this is a whole community, a family, it’s like everybody’s engaged. You walk around campus, you walk around Monroe [St.], for example, and you have people just interacting with you all the time,” Palazzo said. “When you’re missing home or you’re homesick, that’s what keeps you in touch with everybody.”

There are a total number of 59 international student-athletes currently playing sports at Oregon State, six of whom are on the Beavers’ men’s basketball active roster.

“I have a lot of Spanish friends that play soccer here. I love them, you know. I can’t be more grateful for them,” Palazzo said. “There are two Argentinian athletes here at Oregon State also.”

During the 2021 season, Palazzo was not on the active roster but was at every practice, game, and event with the team helping out and being engaged in any way possible.

That year, the Beavers put up a 3-28 overall record, and following the conclusion of the season, many Beaver athletes either graduated from the team or elected to transfer elsewhere.

Following one of the worst seasons of the men’s basketball program, the Beavers only had four returning players from their roster, which opened up space for players such as Palazzo to get another chance at making the active roster.

“This is my first year on the active roster,” said Palazzo. “I think everything happens for a reason. I liked the way things were going, and I feel like if you want something and you don’t have it at first, it makes you appreciate things more.”

Looking back on what the experience of being on the active roster has done for him, Palazzo reflected internally.

“(It made me) a stronger person and also more aware of the things that I have. I used to not appreciate that my mom would wait for me after practice to have dinner with her every night. Until like 11 p.m. and midnight. Now that I don’t have her here with me, I can appreciate her more,” said Palazzo. “That’s what I like about being away from home. In Argentina, I have everything on hand. And here, I had to work for almost everything.”

This sentiment continued into Palazzo’s life as he attempted to start relationships with people he met.

“I created my person from zero. It’s crazy because I needed to start telling my story from zero. Like, who are you? Like hey, ‘My name is Felipe,’” said Palazzo. “Back home, I would never have to do that. My family is well-known back home. It’s a little town.”

He continues to have communication back home, speaking with friends and family frequently.

“Well, (I talk) with my family, especially with my mom, every day. With my friends, it’s kind of hard because everybody keeps living their lives,” said Palazzo. “In the beginning, in 2020, there were like 30 to 40 people checking on me. Now it’s just five people, and I love that. It was hard to understand, but I love it because those are my real friends,” said Palazzo.

Spending the majority of his day dedicated to basketball and school, Palazzo remains busy daily. Although, his hectic schedule hasn’t stopped him from returning home to see his family and friends.

“I have traveled back three times since I’ve been here (Oregon State),” said Palazzo.

It hasn’t always been him making the trip back to Argentina from Oregon, having one night set a memory on his birthday that he won’t soon forget.

“We had a game and my parents and my sister came. It was the first time they visited me in America. It was probably one of the best moments of my life,” Palazzo said.

There was much to learn on Tinkle’s offensive and defensive sets during his year as a team manager last season, but Palazzo also learned an important lesson about collegiate basketball and the standards of Oregon State’s men’s basketball program.

“I made some really good friends last year and it was fun, but we just didn’t have results. Basketball is all about winning,” Palazzo said.

Oregon State’s men’s basketball roster consists of two seniors, forward Rodrigue Andela and forward Dzmitry Ryuny, and two juniors, guard Dexter Akanno and center Chol Marial, with the remaining 11 players on the roster being either freshmen or sophomores. Out of the four upperclassmen, only Andela, Akanno, and Marial returned from last year.

“I feel like this team, because it’s younger, is willing to learn more,” Palazzo said. “When you have an older team, you have a lot of big personalities, and this is all about just putting the pieces together.”

Many friends and memories helped make up his two years with the team, and a selection of them now make up his family of brothers.

“I’m cool with everybody here, but maybe Cho (Marial) is my oldest friend because he was from last year. Nick (Krass) is a good friend of mine, Donovan (Grant) is a good friend of mine, Dexter (Akanno) and Glenn (Taylor Jr.) we all have a group,” Palazzo said.

Palazzo may be the only Argentinian on the men’s basketball team, but he shares a common similarity with two of his teammates that came to mind.

“It’s the biggest part of everybody’s life. He’s (Andela) from Cameroon, he’s (Krass) from Mississippi. I’m from Argentina. We left everything to be here,” Palazzo said. “I feel like we have a great number of international players. We’re always able to get international players to come here, and I think it’s a great thing. It spreads the sport.”

There were many benefits that Palazzo mentioned about the increase of international student-athletes across the nation that could ultimately better those around them.

“I think that one of the most important things in life is to understand that (you need to) open your eyes. In America, it’s a little bit complicated and I feel like Americans are close-minded to things,” said Palazzo. “That’s why I loved it when we traveled to Italy (as a team) because it opens your mind, it makes you understand that they do the same things, but do it a different way and that we have international players because we bring our culture to this city.”

International players in the collegiate game are not an uncommon occurrence, as many top nationally ranked teams find themselves with a star international player.

“If you see the No. 7 ranked (University of) Arizona team, they have a lot of European and African players,” said Palazzo. “In the NBA, most of the succeeding players are European and African players, except for LeBron James, of course.” 

Of course, the conversation led to Palazzo’s favorite international basketball players making it to the NBA and succeeding at that level.

“I mean, Manu (Ginóbili) is my favorite, but I understand that Dirk (Nowitzki) was the best one,” said Palazzo. “Besides basketball, I love (Lionel) Messi. What he has done for Argentina’s soccer team I can’t put into words.”

Reflecting on the difference between last year as a team manager and this year as an active roster player, Palazzo has seen the team at its bottom and now as it is beginning to climb in the right direction again.

“Well, first of all, it was awesome. Being able to be a part of an almost professional team. It’s amazing. What I liked the most was being able to see how the team started growing from zero to what we are today. We have a team culture,” Palazzo said. “It was an amazing year and I can’t be more grateful for this year.”

This year especially wasn’t just about solidifying his spot on the team, Palazzo knew that he had to get up to speed with the people around him.

“I had to start my path here from zero to a hundred. I didn’t know anything about America, my English was not like this, but if you hang out with everybody that’s speaking English at all times, you need to start picking up on the slang,” Palazzo said.

There is debate and discussion outside of the Oregon State locker room and within the media recently over what the new standard for this Beaver basketball team should be moving forward. While not listening to much of the noise from the outside, Palazzo remains optimistic about the team that Tinkle has assembled.

“For this team, I think we’re on the right path. I think coach Tinkle is great, our coaching staff is great, and we’re just building our culture back. When all the pieces are working out together is when you will start getting results,” Palazzo said. 

Palazzo understands that being a part of any Beaver program brings responsibilities that come with their own set of consequences.

“Athletes, especially Division-I athletes, in a big school like this (Oregon State), we have a lot of repercussions in society, so we have to be responsible for that and we need to be responsible in every way,” Palazzo said.

As for the goals that he has for himself and the team moving forward into next season and those to come, Palazzo has his head pointed in the right direction.

“It’s not just about basketball, you know. You can be a great basketball player, but what about you personally? It doesn’t matter if you’re a bad person. I’m just trying to be better every day at basketball, school-wise, community service, interacting with people, and trying to help everybody,” Palazzo said. “That’s what I am trying to do to make this team better.”