Leonardo Paludo, one of three Brazilian players named to the All-Academic team, transferred to NJIT after playing one year for a small college in North Carolina. It was a wise decision; for at NJIT, Leonardo is acing both volleyball serves and management classes.
When did you start playing Volleyball?
My entire family played volleyball, but I started playing relatively late; when I was 15. I grew up in a country town, about five hours away from the beach. But when I was 15 I visited my uncle, who lived in a city called Blumenau. The city has a great private boarding school, and I tried out for its volleyball team. The school gave me a scholarship and that’s when I started playing. I always liked volleyball, but I soon began to love it. It’s most fun, of course, when you score, but it’s also fun to block shots and the overall dynamics and interplay of the game is exhilarating. Players are completely dependent on each other on the court and, off the court, we’ve become close friends.
What was it like growing up in Brazil?
I really love Brazil – there is no other place quite like it. I grew up in a very peaceful little country town, in a middle class family. My mother works as a real estate agent and my father is a manager of a storage company.
What were your favorite subjects in high school?
My favorite subjects always were math and physics. You would have expected me to major in engineering, but more recently I took an interest in business management. I read a lot of business magazines and my uncles and father are involved in business. But I still like engineering.
How did you wind up at NJIT? Were you recruited, or get a scholarship to play ball here?
I didn’t come to NJIT as a freshman. I played first for Lees-McRae University, a small school in the mountains of North Carolina. We played NJIT during my freshman year and the NJIT coach liked my game. I was already trying to transfer to a better college with a stronger volleyball program. Lees-McRae was not in a conference, and NJIT was in a major conference and it was going Division I, which would increase my chances of national recognition. Its volleyball program is also well organized and managed by head coach Ryan McNeil and assistant coach Jose Martins. Besides that, Lees-McRae was in a small town and I felt isolated. My friend, Eduardo Welter was on the NJIT team, and he encouraged me to switch to NJIT. Ed and I went to the same high school in Brazil. So I transferred to NJIT, and I’m very happy here.
Three of the four players who made the All-Academic team are from Brazil? How do you account for that?
Perhaps the Brazilian waters helped our brains? No, seriously, I think it has to do with us trying to make the best of our situations. After all, we left our homes, our families, our friends – everything we had – to come to American to study and play. So I feel -- and I think my Brazilian teammates would agree, that not to make the best of our time here would be a waste. There’s no point in coming here -- sacrificing everything -- and not doing well.
Was it difficult coming to live in a new country? Was it difficult starting college in America?
It was very hard for the first year. As I mentioned, I played in North Carolina my freshman year and the college was pretty much isolated. Another obstacle that I faced was language barrier – mastering English. I had to spend more time studying than I would in Brazil. Also, the food is completely different here, so I had to get used to American food. Overall I had a hard time in the beginning.
Talk about the team's success this year. What made it such a good year? Are the players close friends?
Our team is united. The players are extremely close to each other. I attribute a good part of the winning season to the unity of the team. I have to give credit to the coaches, too, Ryan MacNeil and Jose (JR) Martin.
Talk about your studies at NJIT; your major, the SOM, the honors college? Are you enjoying it here?
I am really enjoying my studies at NJIT. The Honors College is very demanding and forces me to push myself hard. But it is gratifying to be a scholar in the Honors College.
What are your plans this summer and after you graduate?
I’m staying at NJIT this summer to take summer classes. I’m doing the accelerated BS/MBA program, so I can take graduate classes. I’ll also work for residence life in the residence halls here. After I graduate, I plan to return to Brazil and work for a multinational company. I’d like to work for a management consultant firm, in finance and economics, which is my concentration.
What do you do for fun when you are not studying or playing Volleyball?
I try to get as much rest time as possible, since with sport and school my daily schedule is so hectic. NJIT is close to New York City. We love to go there and visit Central Park. Or sometimes we just walk around the city and do a little shopping. The first college I went to in NC was in a town of 700 people. It’s so much more fun here at NJIT. We Brazilians also love the great Portuguese and Brazilian restaurants in Newark’s Ironbound section. They give you so much food and it’s delicious.
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