The time is now for Pietro Aradori and Italy
BOLOGNA (Italy) - Pietro Aradori just had a career-defining season, now he's ready to take it up a notch for his national team.
It's hard to establish what makes for a 'defining season', especially given the way basketball works nowadays: a twelve month, non-stop, worldwide rollercoaster. Looking back at Pietro Aradori's latest campaign, the label seems appropriate.
A linchpin for Italy's national team, Aradori helped the Azzurri make their way back to the FIBA Basketball World Cup after 13 years, while also leading Segafredo Virtus Bologna to a stunning victory in the Basketball Champions League. Despite being 'only' 30 years old, Aradori has the experience of someone far older: 14 seasons in 12 different teams as a professional player and more than 200 games with Italy's national teams.
"PLAYING WITH THE NATIONAL TEAM IN MY HOMETOWN AND BEING THE CAPTAIN WAS SOMETHING I DREAMED."
His early days seem so remote now, almost as if they belong to another player. "I started really young," Aradori recalls. "I was just a kid playing all kinds of sports: soccer, obviously, but also swimming and skiing. Then I fell in love watching Kobe Bryant and that was it."
Pietro began playing in Team 75, a club his father, a genuine hoop fanatic, had created in Lograto, a tiny town in the north side of the country, not far from Brescia. Sweating within the walls of a small gym, trying to emulate Kobe (and Tracy McGrady, another of Aradori's favorites) while learning the fundamentals of the game, Pietro began a journey that took him all around Italy and Europe, only to get back home on a cold and foggy November night.
Serving as Italy's captain in the crucial win against Lithuania in the FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers on the hardwood of the brand new PalaLeonessa in Brescia, Pietro lived a moment he will never forget.
"It felt almost like a dream come true, playing with the national team in my hometown and being the captain was something I dreamed about since I started launching shots in that old gym way back in Lograto." The dream of leading the Azzurri to the World Cup, though, was not granted to Aradori, he earned it. "I worked so hard to get where I am right now, spending almost every summer of the last 15 years playing through all the youth academies and whatnot."
There's no need to explain why Pietro is so proud of his achievements with Italy, especially because the path that led him here has not always been paved with fulfillment. "EuroBasket 2017, the defeat against Serbia in the Quarter-Finals was brutal, but we all felt like our disadvantage in terms of length and physicality was insurmountable."
"PEOPLE TREAT ME LIKE I'M A VETERAN, WHICH I AM IN MANY WAYS, BUT I STARTED REALLY YOUNG AND I STILL HAVE A LOT TO ACCOMPLISH."
The real blow had come a year before in Turin, where the Azzurri suffered an overtime loss to Croatia, which cost them the chance to travel to the Rio Olympics. "That was bitter for sure," Aradori remembers the disappointment as he walked out of the PalaIsozaki, recalling: "It was the toughest moment of my career with the national team."
Nonetheless, Pietro believes that his best days for the national team are still ahead of him: "People treat me like I'm veteran, which I am in many ways, but I started really young and I still have a lot to accomplish." Having just stepped into his thirties, Aradori is definitely entitled to claim his rights to a promising future, because the last two years have seen Italy cruise through the Qualifiers with a compelling, yet composed pace.
"It's been interesting, due to the distance between each window of games and the different set of players on call from time to time, but Coach Sacchetti has done a great job by including a bunch of guys who barely had a chance to play, up to that point, and by giving them a real opportunity to make a contribution."
The next chapter of this story will take place in China, where Italy will need all the championship experience available to feed the dream of snatching up a medal. Aradori can provide that for sure, for that’s where his recent glory in the Basketball Champions League comes in handy.
"It's been an overwhelming sensation, the Basketball Champions League Final Four weekend is another memory I will take with me for life," he said. Again, the triumph over Iberostar Tenerife was the successful landing after a troubled flight: "This last year has been a tricky one and halfway through the season it looked like we were headed towards a huge bust."
A change in the head coaching role and some roster adjustments later, and the team went on a roll that ended with a historic result. "It's still hard to believe that our names will be written in Virtus Bologna's history forever." Ten years after its last major trophy, the club and its many fans finally had a reason to celebrate.