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Patience, continuity and shooting skills will unlock huge Italian potential
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen Women’s Basketball Worldwide) – When I scan around the women’s basketball family and look to see who is next to shine in these coming years, Italy is right up there.
There is one major question of course. Have the Federation got the gumption to hold their nerve, believe in the foundations that they have laid and not have a knee-jerk reaction to the senior team missing out on Tokyo 2020?
Much like when Marco Crespi picked up the coaching reins in the wake of Italy missing out on the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, there were some bumps in the road during the Qualifiers, but the job was done.
Earlier this month, Italy hit another bump in the road at Final Round and an opportunity did slip away from them. I appreciate it is easy for me to say, but I am convinced that is all it was - a bump in the road (like in Prague two years ago). At least that is what it looks like if you have the ability to stand back and look at the bigger picture. Not always easy when you are inside the decision-making process, when the need for action and the emotion can be all-consuming.
Sure, missing out on any Olympics is significant, but the Olympic basketball torch of Italy has hardly been burning in these past years, so it would serve the Federation and the media to keep things firmly in context. Even the players too. Especially the veterans like Gio Sottana, who may have considered her future. I believe she can and should be instrumental in helping guide Italy to unprecedented new heights in these coming years.
For Italy to unlock the potential they undoubtedly have, I think they must do three things. Firstly, they most have patience. Easier said than done - I get it. But they really do seem to be on the cusp of something potentially special. I can imagine pressure on funding, the politics and everything else in any basketball nation makes results all-important. But, to change course at this point would surely be folly.
Secondly, I feel that continuity is essential. They have changed head coaches regularly and in Crespi they have someone who has not only bought into the ethos of the women’s game (having had a decorated career with men’s basketball) and spoken of his excitement at the mission, but he has already shown he can pick Italy up from a disappointment and deliver.
Italy had a bad result in the Group phase against Hungary and they were punished. It exposed how brutal sport can be. But to effectively judge Italy on this alone, would be to throw the baby out with the bath water.
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Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, Crespi and the Federation have invested time, money and a lot of reputational capital into their fantastic initiative #ragazzeintiro which has aimed to focus on developing the art of shooting again. It is something I have followed closely having written for years about female ballers who can shoot becoming an near-extinct species. After all – everyone wants to be a small forward now – right?
Well the early fruits of this project is that Italy celebrated another glorious gold at youth level last weekend when they won the FIBA U18 Women’s European Championship. It came less than 12 months after lifting the FIBA U16 Women’s European Championship 2018 title in Kaunas.
When you see that 8 of the 12 jubilant players in Sarajevo were part of #ragazzeintiro you realize what a fabulous platform the Federation has given these young kids to develop their skills.
I can also throw into this mix the historical appearance in the FIBA U17 Women’s Basketball World Cup 2016 Final in Zaragoza. Yes, perhaps more than any nation, the names of young Italian talents trip off my tongue. So much so, there are too many to mention.
To combine all these different generations of Gilli and Panzera, with Cubaj and Trucco, Andre, Penna and so on, with the experience of Sottana and the special talent of Ceci Zandalasini, I get excited as a mere fan of female hoops in general.
When you combine all the various points above, it is a delicate balance. It’s true. But in my independent view as a women’s basketball specialist, I think that the elements of patience, continuity and #ragazzeintiro will be the recipe for success in the medium to long term.
It’s time for everyone involved with Italian women’s basketball to surely consume themselves with the big blue sky opening up ahead and to stay firmly on course.
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