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January 26, 2023

Wharton Students Acquire 90% Of The Shares Of “Pallacanestro Trieste”, An Italian Professional Basketball Team.

25th January 2023 – After more than 20 years, American ownership has returned to the highest level of professional basketball in Italy, the “Serie A”.

Cotogna Sports Group (CSG), a company founded in 2022 by a group of students of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, has purchased 90% of Pallacanestro Trieste, a professional basketball team based in Trieste, a city that sits on the most north-eastern Italian border and with strong ties with the USA in its past.

The only previous American ownership in Italian basketball was the acquisition of Olimpia Milano by the Italian-American entrepreneur Pasquale Caputo back in 1999. An endeavor that had among its partners a very young Kobe Bryant, just 21 years old at the time.


CSG is an investment group focused on buying and developing sporting franchises all over the world. Founded by Richard de Meo, Fitzann R. Reid, Prab S. Sekhon, Richard Johnson, John Jefferies, and former NFL player Connor Barwin, the company aspires to elevate Pallacanestro Trieste, which has already a longstanding tradition in Italian basketball and brings them to the European and global stage.

“We chose to invest in Pallacanestro Trieste because we believe in the club. There is a strong fan base in the area for basketball and we believe we can help take this team to new heights” said Fitzann Reid, Founding Partner of CSG. “We could not have done this without the support of our investors and the faculty and staff at Wharton and, as a woman in the sports industry, I am excited to be a part of this ownership group.”

Pallacanestro Team, Staff, and Board (Photo copyright-free for media use only).

“Over the last year we have analyzed the European basketball market,” said Richard de Meo, one of the Founding Partners of CSG, “with the aim of finding a sports franchise with the right features to start our project. Trieste has these features a city, facilities, sports team, geographical location, and history. Our aim is to gradually develop Pallacanestro Trieste with the ultimate goal of competing in Europe; by innovating the organization, building on the marketing and communication processes, bringing know-how in the technical-sports sector, and leveraging international relationships – notably within the NBA. We aim to work in partnership, – concluded de Meo – with the utmost respect towards the team, the public, and the city, adding resources and skills to increase the overall value of the project, accelerating its growth in an international dimension”.

“I’m proud of this group and our process at CSG,” said Connor Barwin, another Founding Partner of CSG “Basketball has always been a passion of mine, and I’m excited to use my experience as a player and in the front office to help elevate this team back to the top of the LBA and into the Euroleague.”

Michele Ruzzier (Photo copyright-free for media use only).


The acquisition of 90 % of the shares – the remaining 10% of the company will be held by local shareholders – will be followed by all the technical operations deriving from the new set-up. Pallacanestro Trieste’s first Board of Directors of the CSG era consists of five members, four of whom are nominated by Cotogna Sports Group: they are Richard de Meo (Chairman), Fitzann R. Reid (Vice Chairman), Connor Barwin (Vice Chairman), and Mario Ghiacci (Vice Chairman); the fifth member is chosen by the minority shareholder, Trieste Basket srl, who have appointed Trieste manager Andrea Bochicchio.

As mandated by the Board of Directors, Mario Ghiacci will continue to act as General Manager of the Club, in close liaison with Richard de Meo and Fitzann R. Reid, who will take care of the company’s development in Italy and the U.S., in connection with CSG’s founding members. “We are completely obsessed with Trieste and are excited to connect more with the team and the community. This is the first of many ventures for CSG,” says Reid.

Frank Bartley, is currently the top scorer in the Italian Serie A league (Photo copyright-free for media use only).

The American ownership spent last week in Italy where they met for the first time with the full staff, fans, and stakeholders of Pallacanestro Trieste, and local political institutions. Of course, the new ownership also met with the team, where they found five fellow countrymen: the team has in its roster Frank Gaines, who was the best scorer in Serie A in the 2018/2019 championship, Corey Davis Jr, AJ Pacher, Skylar Spencer, and Frank Bartley IV, currently the player with the best points averages in the Italian league.


The connections between the city of Trieste and the United States have deep roots that can be traced back to the years after the Second World War when, for nine years, the city was called the “Free Territory of Trieste” and, until 26 October 1954, was controlled as an independent state by the British and Americans on behalf of the UN. These were years of cultural and sporting ferment and contamination for Trieste, in which the city opened up to a new world. Trieste became a city ahead of its time, open, international, and modern, a city where basketball was seen and played. For over 50 years the passion for basketball has never been extinguished and is renewed today with the news of the acquisition of 90% of the shares in Pallacanestro Trieste by CSG.

The city of Trieste also had the honor of hosting the basketball GOAT on its parquet: Michael Jordan. Trieste was in fact chosen by Nike as the only Italian stop-over on its promotional tour in 1985 and MJ, as the brand’s star testimonial, took part in a game that has remained in the annals of Trieste basketball. He was supposed to play only one half of that match but his desire for basketball made him stay on the court for the full 40 minutes. MJ crushed and shattered the basketball hoop. Nowadays the memory of that fantastic basketball day is still vivid.

From the left Richard de Meo, Fitzann R. Reid & Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon (Photo copyright-free for media use only).


Pallacanestro Trieste was founded in 1975 and by the 1979-1980 season, the team was already in the top league.

In 1984 entrepreneur Bepi Stefanel bought the team with the goal of reaching the top of Italian basketball, bringing to Trieste the great coach Bogdan Tanjevic. The team qualified for the Italian Championship semifinal and the final of the Korac Cup in 1994. Two years later, in 1996, under the name of the worldwide famous Italian coffee company Illycafè, the team reached the Italian Cup final. After a few uneasy years, in 2004 a new ownership relaunched the team and, in 2018 Pallacanestro Trieste was back in Serie A.

The 2020-2021 season ended with participation in the Final 8 of the Italian Cup and the Championship Playoff, concluded with a 7th place finish.

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