BYU remains very close to former basketball star Jonathan Tavernari's heart

Published: Tuesday, June 3 2014 6:05 a.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, July 3 2014 3:52 p.m. MDT

“I said hi to him that Monday and he asked for my number,” Kiri said. “By Friday, he had asked me to marry him. It was love at first sight, I guess. It was quick, but it was the best decision either of us has made.”

The couple wed in 2009, and after graduating from BYU, they went to Italy as Tavernari pursued a professional basketball career. He played for three teams — Scafati, Giorgio Tesi PT and Angelica BI — before returning to his homeland of Brazil to play for Pinheiros, the same team he played on before coming to the United States.

Tavernari is grateful to his wife, who hails from South Jordan, for being so willing to move around to foreign countries as he has pursued his dreams.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better partner, a better eternal companion,” he said. “She has picked up every language of every country that we’ve lived. At BYU she studied Arabic and Middle Eastern studies. She speaks Arabic and French. She learned Italian while we were in Italy. She learned how to speak Italian by reading the Book of Mormon. She picked up Portuguese super quick. She loves the culture. She learned to cook all of the Brazilian food.”

Tavernari said when he looks at opportunities to play for certain teams, “the No. 1 thing we check for is, how far away are we going to be from an LDS chapel so we can go to church. Then we find out how far we are from an army base to grocery shop once a month and get some Mountain Dew, and Reese’s Pieces, since they don’t have that stuff overseas.”

Kiri said it’s been an “eye-opening experience” living abroad. Initially, she was a little nervous about moving to Brazil.

“People told me how dangerous the country was and I had heard all these horror stories from returned missionaries about how dangerous the country was,” she said. “It is dangerous, but there were so many beautiful things. Brazil was so different than I expected. The people are incredible. The food was delicious. I had a lot of fun. Jonathan kept us in really safe areas. I never felt unsafe.”

Tavernari’s pro journey began with him attending the equivalent of the Chicago pre-draft camp for European players in Treviso, Italy, in 2010. He went on to be named all-league and the sixth man of the year. After three years in Italy, he opted to play in Brazil in a league that is considered the second-highest level, just below the NBA, in the Western Hemisphere.

However, Tavernari’s recent injury truncated his experience with Pinheiros.

“Now, I'm working out, staying in shape, weighing our options, seeing where I’m going to go next,” he said.

Nearly two years ago, Kiri gave birth to a son, Xander, who seems to be following in his dad’s footsteps already.

“Xander’s favorite toy is a basketball and a hoop. We try to buy him other toys, but nothing works,” Tavernari said. “The only thing that he focuses on for more than a few minutes is his basketball and hoop. Most of my games are televised. He hears the commentator saying, ‘Tavernari has the ball,’ and they’re showing me. Now he wants us to commentate while he dribbles the ball. On my Facebook page, you can see him shoot with a follow through, believe it or not. He likes to play with other toys, but nothing holds his attention for more than three or four minutes except for his basketball. It’s awesome.”

“It’s inevitable that he would love basketball,” Kiri said of Xander. “His favorite thing is to put on a jersey and listen to the songs played during warm-ups. He runs around and shoots hoops. It’s pretty cute.”

Tavernari doesn't know how long he plans to play professionally, but he does know what he wants to do when he's finished.

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