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Datome thrilled to put Italian jersey back on for Qualifiers
ROME (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers) - Luigi Datome has watched Italy's FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers campaign from afar and is now thrilled to put the national jersey on in a bid to help the team for two tough upcoming Group J clashes.
Datome will make his Qualifiers' debut against Poland on Friday in Bologna before travelling to Debrecen to face Hungary on Monday.
"I'm really excited as always to wear the jersey. I have been very lucky to wear it for the past summers and I'm very happy that I can play, unlike the previous windows," said the 30-year-old, who last lined up for his country at the FIBA EuroBasket 2017."
Datome was Italy's second leading scorer at last year's EuroBasket, averaging 15 points a game. With the likes of Marco Belinelli, Danilo Gallinari and Daniel Hackett not in the squad, he will be called upon to reclaim some of the leadership role that he's held in the past.
He will be joined by Nicolo Melli, who is also making his first appearance in the European Qualifiers.
Luigi Datome and Nicolo Melli have been through a lot of big moments together with the Italian national team. Next up for the duo is the European Qualifiers.
"I think every player is supposed to bring his special talent and experience to the team. I think Nicolo and I bring good experience, especially in European basketball. And I hope we can help the team with our experience,” said the veteran of five EuroBaskets and one FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament who has yet to play in a FIBA Basketball World Cup.
"Every player brings a different experience and talent but everybody needs to bring their own in order for us to help the team be the best we can be," Datome added.
"IT'S A VERY TOUGH GROUP BUT I THINK WE'RE IN A PRETTY GOOD POSITION NOW. BUT WE HAVE TO TREAT EVERY GAME AS A SPECIAL ONE SO THAT'S WHY WE'RE PREPARING TO BE IN THE BEST SHAPE POSSIBLE WITH POLAND FIRST AND THEN HUNGARY."
Italy enter Second Round action in Group J with a 4-2 record after losing their two games in the third window to Croatia and Netherlands, who are both 3-3 in the group as well as Poland and Hungary while Lithuania are undefeated at 6-0.
"It's a very tough group but I think we're in a pretty good position now. But we have to treat every game as a special one so that's why we're preparing to be in the best shape possible with Poland first and then Hungary," Datome said.
The 6ft 8in (2.03m) forward believes the in-season windows also have had a major benefit for the Italian national team.
"One of the good things about these windows is that other players that hadn't previously had the opportunity to show what they can do have had the opportunity," Datome said.
He pointed to Amedeo Della Valle to illustrate his point. The shooting guard played at FIBA EuroBasket 2015 as a 20-year-old but did not make the cut for last summer’s tournament. However, he is Italy's leading scorer in the Qualifiers, averaging 18.4 points while shooting 43 percent from three-point range to go with 2.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals in five games.
"Amedeo is for sure one of those guys that took advantage of it. I'm very happy for him because he has a lot of talent and I’m happy that he has helped the team a lot to win the first four games,” Datome said.
After watching and cheering on Della Valle and his Italian compatriots in the First Round of the Qualifiers, Datome now has a chance to help his country take a step towards reaching their first World Cup since 2006.