The International Volleyball Hall of Fame inducts its 2022 class on Saturday. We are featuring all six inductees, starting with Samuele Papi. You can watch the ceremonies in Holyoke, Massachusetts, live at 7 p.m. Eastern. Get all the information at www.VolleyHall.org.
Those two words can be used to describe the incredible volleyball career of Italian indoor men’s player Samuele Papi.
Like most Italian children, Papi grew up playing futbol. He had no idea what volleyball was until the age of 13. It was then he started playing on youth teams and realized that certain movements and actions were easier for him than for his peers. At age 17, Papi made his debut in the Serie A league and found that his ability to play volleyball at a high level was something that he should focus on as a God-given talent. From then on, determined not to waste the opportunity, Papi started working on his mind and body to dedicate himself to the sport. That dedication paid off in ways most cannot imagine.
Papi made his international debut in 1993, including playing in the World University Games against a USA team that featured setter Lloy Ball, who ultimately went on to become a four-time Olympian and 2015 IVHF Inductee. It was the first of many times that Papi and Ball would square off, and you could say that Papi made quite an impression on Ball.
“We played the Italian team in pool play,” said Ball. “They had a skinny little outside attacker that looked like the Karate Kid, Ralph Macchio. Well, this guy proceeded to pass perfect, jump serve aces and go for 30 points in a five-set Italian win. That was my first look at the great Samuele Papi.”
At a young age, Papi’s dedication shone through, as the Italians captured the World Championship and World League titles in 1994 and three gold medals at major events in 1995 to set them up for the 1996 Olympic Games. In Atlanta, the Italians ran into a talented Dutch squad, influenced by fellow 2022 International Volleyball Hall of Fame inductee Peter Murphy, and finished with the silver medal.
The team finished third at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and second at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, with several top finishes in major international events in between. And all along, Ball is woven into Papi’s story.
“Papi and I had many great battles, and to be honest, he usually got the best of me,” he said. “Just like in the 2004 Olympic pool play in Greece where he led his team to a decisive win over Team USA.”
Papi decided to leave the Italian national team after the 2006 World Cup in Tokyo but continued to play professionally, recording wins and accolades throughout the years.
Several of those professional matches were against … you guessed it … Ball.
“When Samuele played for powerhouse Sicily Treviso and I played for their arch enemy Casa Modena, the gym would be electric as Papi hammered attacks and served up aces to the cheers of 7,000 Italian fans. It seemed like a Papi-led team would ALWAYS end up in the Italian finals!
“Our greatest battle was in the CEV Final in Poland in 2007,” Ball continued. “Papi’s Copra Piacenza versus my Dynamo Kazan team had an epic five-set battle in front of 10,000 fans. I remember he and I had some kind words after the match. Even though we competed hard against each other, I always had GREAT respect for both Papi the player and Papi the man.”
Papi matched Ball in Olympic appearances in 2012, as he rejoined the Italian squad for his fourth Olympic Games in London, which resulted in a bronze medal.
All told, Papi appeared in 339 international matches and his teams won four Olympic medals, two World Championship gold medals, three World Cup medals, nine World League medals and five European Championship medals. This doesn’t take into account the astounding success his professional teams had over the course of his 27-year career.
The impact that Papi had is felt worldwide, as evidenced by Ball’s admiration for him.
“Papi proceeded to have one of the best and longest careers of any player. Always undersized but never overmatched, Papi led his teams to a great many victories.”
His immeasurable talent and dedicated consistency was felt off the court as well. He was awarded the 2004 Ribbon Officer’s Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, which is conveyed by the President of the Italian Republic and gives credit to an individual who represents the country well in a long and successful career.
Papi sustained a successful career that spanned almost 30 years, which is a testament to the goals he set for himself as a young child. That God-given talent certainly did not go to waste.
“I could go on to tell many stories about Samuele’s many great accomplishments and matches,” said Ball. “There is no doubt that he was one of the most consistent, athletic, competitive and dominating outside attackers in the history of the game. No one is more deserving than Papi to be inducted into the International Volleyball Hall of Fame.”