LONG BEACH, Calif., December 14. USA Water Polo announced that the Tony Azevedo (Long Beach, CA/Stanford/Long Beach Shore) sweepstakes came to an end today when the popular U.S. water polo driver signed a landmark, professional contract with Bissolati Cremona (Italy) that will place him among the top 10 of paid players in the sport.
The 18-month contract was inked just over a week after Azevedo played his final collegiate match for Stanford University, which lost to UCLA at the NCAA finals.
Azevedo’s incentive-laden deal could be valued at up to $275,000, more than doubling the amount of any previous salary hauled in by an American player. The contract includes room, board and transportation while in Italy as well as bonuses for performance. It is the heftiest known deal dished out to a first-year player in professional water polo to date. Azevedo also has a bevy of sponsors waiting to court him with endorsement opportunities in the European market, where he is fast becoming a household name.
Azevedo’s contract places him in an elite class of six-figure players, including Hungary’s Tamas Kasas, and Serbia and Montenegro’s Aleksandar Sapic, both regarded to be among the best players in the world. USA center Ryan Bailey is reported to earn in the neighborhood of $100,000 for his new club team in Moscow.
“It’s amazing and something that my dad’s always talked about,” said Azevedo, 23. “For me, it’s another step toward winning a gold medal in the U.S. I want to see how good I can get by playing with the best players in the world year round.”
Azevedo, who played his first Olympic Games as an 18-year-old in Sydney, has been aggressively pursued by several teams abroad in anticipation of his graduation, but NCAA eligibility rules prohibited him from signing with any club up to this point. His new club will be star-heavy, boasting a roster that includes, among others, Croatian sensation Dubravko Simenc, two-time Italian Olympian Leonardo Sottani and Hungarian standout Zolt Varga. The team will be coached by Marco Baldinetti, the skipper who led the famed Club Pro Recco (Italy) to the European Club title in 2003.
“Tony’s contract means more than just dollars and cents,” said Eric Velazquez, USA Water Polo Director of Media Relations. “It shows that he possesses a star-quality that people are attracted to, that he is one of the best to ever play the game and that he deserves to be mentioned in the same class as the rest of the A-List athletes in the Olympics. This is a huge step forward for Tony and for our sport.”
Azevedo prides himself on being an ambassador to the sport and is looking at his good fortune as an opportunity to enhance the sport’s image here at home.
“I’m hoping that people will look at this and see that water polo may be bigger than they give it credit for…that this is something that they should look into more,” he said. “I hope that it influences more kids to play and more people to come out and watch.”
Azevedo will join his team after the winter break on January 10, catching on at the midway point of the season.
About Tony Azevedo
Tony Azevedo is regarded as one of the game’s most prolific scorers. In Athens, he was the second-highest scorer of the tournament with 15 goals, including three three-goal performances. In 2003, Azevedo led all scorers with 33 goals at the Pan American Games and was first with 12 goals during the FINA World League. In June of 2003, Men’s Journal named Azevedo as the world’s seventh-best male athlete, ahead of American sports icons Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez, Tiger Woods and Roy Jones, Jr. Azevedo led the U.S. in scoring with 14 goals at the 2001 World Championships despite playing with a ruptured eardrum and tossed in 13 goals in his Olympic debut as an 18-year-old.
The Azevedo That Almost Wasn’t…
The world of water polo almost never knew Tony Azevedo. When he was four, Azevedo suffered a fall that severed his trachea and esophagus, leaving inhaled air to spill into the surrounding tissues. The condition, known as the guillotine effect, claims the life of nine out of 10 victims on average. Azevedo’s heart stopped beating on the operating table for a period of four minutes before doctors were able to revive him. They warned his parents that he was likely to have suffered some brain damage and that they could count on him being on respirators for the rest of his life. Today, he is a graduate of Stanford University with a degree in international relations and is one of the world’s best athletes. Azevedo’s miraculous recovery was swift and his case is still used as an example by physicians in training at that hospital.