He’s out of the “epicenter” of the COVID-19 virus in Italy and back here in the Dayton area, but he still doesn’t feel comfortable.
A.J. Pacher, once a basketball star at Wright State University and before that at Vandalia Butler High School, was the standout 6-foot-10 center of the pro team in Treviglio — Remer Blu Basket Treviglio — which is in the Lombardy region of northern Italy and is ground zero of the devastating coronavirus outbreak in the nation.
“It’s the epicenter,” Pacher said. “Our whole area was put in a red zone state of emergency. It went into total lockdown.”
As of Monday night, 1,407 of Italy’s 2,100 deaths from COVID-19 had happened in the Lombardy region. Of the 28,000 people diagnosed with the virus, over 15,000 were from that area. And by the time you read this, all these numbers will have jumped far higher.
Pacher said his first game was cancelled Feb. 23 and finally on March 9 it was announced the league would cancel games until at least April 3.
For several days, as the deadly news had begun to come out of Italy, Pacher said his parents back here had begged him to come home:
“They were freaking out, for sure. When everything started happening they were saying, ‘Just pack your stuff and come home. Come home!’
“I told them even though I’d like to, this was my job. I couldn’t just leave without permission. I had to get official word from the team first.”
When the season was put on hold, he finally was told he could go home. He bought his ticket on the night of March 9 and as he packed, he said he was following Wright State’s disappointing loss to UIC that night in the Horizon League Tournament in Indianapolis.
Although he said he thought he’d “run into trouble” at the Milan airport the next morning, it was just the opposite: “It was pretty empty.”
It did take him one extra flight to get home, flying first to Germany, then, Washington D.C. and finally on to Columbus.
Although no longer stuck in the “epicenter,” he still doesn’t feel free of the grasp of deadly virus.
But his worry is more for others than himself.
“I’m 28 years old and very active,” he said. “I take care of my body and eat right and physically try to do all the right things. I think my immune system is pretty good.
“I guess technically I could get the virus, but I’m pretty healthy. And if I did get it, I think I’d have a good chance to recover.
“But what I’m most worried about is other people. The people I come in contact with from my family and things like that.
“I was around this for a month and I haven’t gotten the official test. I’ve been examined a couple of times by nurses and I show no symptoms and feel fine, but I can’t tell you with 100 percent certainty that I don’t have it.
“And that’s the crazy and scary thing about this. There is not one person in the world right now who can tell you they don’t have it unless they’ve been tested and were negative.
“And even then, there can be a problem.
“If you go get tested and then you’ve got a few days to wait for the results to come back, in that time you can come in contact with someone who does have the virus. Next thing you might end up getting it. And so when you get your results back that say you’re negative, two weeks later it pops up that ‘No, you have it!’.”
“The truth is, my age group is in a difficult period right now because a lot of people don’t care about it. They say, ‘Well, I can’t get it!’
“But you have a responsibility to try to be protective of other people who could get it. You could be a carrier .
“That’s why we need to take precautionary measures.”
Although he said he continues to work out in case he’s called back to Italy to resume the season, Pacher said he mostly tries to stay around his townhouse near Austin Landing:
“I try to keep social distancing myself from everybody. And to limit my contact. I want to keep my family and the people around me safe.”
He knows firsthand the alternative.
‘It’s my second home’
According to Italian authorities, the first confirmed case of the virus in Italy came when a “38-year-old athletic male” began experiencing respiratory issues but was turned away three or four times at his doctor’s office and from a hospital emergency in the Lombardy region.
With each failed attempt, he came in contact with more people.
That was Feb. 20, though some experts think the virus may have been circulating in the general populace for as much as a week prior.
Three days later — Feb. 23 — Pacher sad Treviglio’s first game was cancelled,
“I’ve got a picture on my phone from that Friday (Feb. 21) where they were saying there were just three cases. Then it was 50 and then it just kept going up and up and up.
“It really hurt to see what was happening. I saw things and heard stories that broke your heart. A lot of hospitals didn’t have room for people and you’d read (social media) posts from doctors where they had to decide what people to take and which ones to let die.
“Right now my heart really goes out to all the people of Italy and especially my teammates and their families.
“I’ve played there four years and I’ve gotten to know the language pretty well. I love the people, the food, the culture, everything. I love it there. It’s my second home.”
Several career stops in Europe
It was in the summer of 2011 – before Pacher’s sophomore season at WSU – that the Raiders took a trip to Italy where they played four exhibition games and saw the sights over 10 days.
He had a couple of break-out performances on that trip and it was the first time that he got the idea he could play professionally after his collegiate career ended.
He played 133 games at WSU – still a program record—and finished with 873 points, 425 rebounds and second-team All Horizon League honors as a senior.
His first pro season was in Basel, Switzerland. He then went to Legnano, Italy. He next played in Budapest, Hungary, then returned to Italy for a season with Reggio Calabria and another in Sienna. Before coming to Treviglio, he played with Pau in France’s top league.
As he grew up on Woodland Meadows Drive in Vandalia, Pacher said: “I never imagined this kind of life I’ve had. I’ve been to a lot of places I never dreamed I’d ever be at.”
That was fine until he found himself in the “epicenter” of the deadly COVID-19 outbreak.
And now, even though he’s far from it, he still doesn’t feel comfortable.
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