25 August, 2023
10 September
Luigi Datome _ ITA
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Datome cherishes basketball journey that ends with Italy at World Cup

RAVENNA (Italy) - More than two decades after making his debut for Italy in the youth teams, and 16 years since his first appearance with the senior side, Luigi Datome is calling it quits in basketball.

A career that saw Datome, 35, play professionally in Italy, the NBA, Turkey and Italy again, will finish once he has wrapped up his summer with the Auzzuri at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 in Manila, Philippines.

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"When a few years ago I was thinking about the end of my career, I thought it would be great to finish with the national team," Datome said.

"I am happy also to have ended my career with the club in Milano (Olimpia), because I could play at the highest level. I know I have been lucky, but I also think I have some credit for because there is a lot of work, will and commitment."


If Datome has not celebrated titles or even reached the podium with Italy, he has nevertheless had a wonderful experience.

Not every boy that grows up in the country dreaming of playing for the national team gets to do so. And Datome has experienced something that most Italians have not, which is to not only make NBA rosters but play meaningful minutes, for the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics. He has also been a big star in Europe.

"I realize that I have achieved something rare," he said. "Now, I enjoy everything, I am so grateful to my federation, to this group of players, to (Italy) coach (Gianmarco) Pozzecco.

"I can't say how the World Cup will be, but living this summer with these guys is fantastic. It would be great to end my career on a high note. I hope we will be great but this was an amazing summer no matter what."

To have the dream finish, Italy will have to meet the challenge of Group A with games against the World Cup hosts, the Philippines, as well as Angola and the Dominican Republic. Should they finish in the top two, games against the top two that come out of a Group B, which consists of South Sudan, Serbia, China and Puerto Rico, would follow.

Italy would need a top-two finish in that Second Round group to advance to the Quarter-Finals. Datome believes Italy, who have been playing well in the preparations, are on the right path.

"We do have a clear identity," he said. "We do have hierarchies and we know who the key players are. Our first goal is to qualify from our group and raise our level in the competition.

"I think we did well with what we had to do to prepare in the practices and games and I think everybody saw that."

If Datome is going to have fond memories regardless of what happens the rest of the way, then his last game in Italy, in Ravenna, on August 13, will have a special place in his heart.

There were plenty of Datome shirts in the crowd. The night was about recognizing him and his contribution to Italy.

"It was emotional during the Italian anthem," he said. "I realize that there was a last time (in Italy) for everything.

"The last national anthem in Italy, the last game in Italy. If you just think about this, it means a lot. Now I can focus again only on the basketball and I will try to help my team as much as I can."

His last game in Italy was a little awkward.

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"I felt a big pressure," he said, before joking. "I apologized for my last minutes on the floor, it was not fun, especially for the kids. It was a strange game, with a lot of emotions, and everybody wanted to pass me the ball. I am not used to that.

"It was a great celebration and my teammates helped me a lot with a fantastic attitude that helped us to get a good win. It was a party."

On the larger issue of what his odyssey in the sport has been like, Datome was philosophical.

"I hope to have changed for the better," he said. "I made a long road in my life, also on the floor.

"I had a lot of fun. It was an amazing journey. I enjoyed all of this and I had a lot of acknowledgement. I owe everything to the game of basketball.

"I have to thank every people who helped me but most of all to our sport: basketball made me the man I am today."

One of Datome's best tournaments with Italy was FIBA EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia

Datome is dreaming of a big finish.

He will try to be a model veteran and a leader. He will play some important minutes at the World Cup, though not as many in the past.

His voice and his overall example in practice, during games, and away from the gym, will be important if Italy are going to realize their aim of claiming a podium finish for the first time since the country grabbed Olympic silver in 2004.

"I just try to do my best for me and this group, which is a special one," he said. "I don’t know if it will be this year (to win something), but I am very optimistic for the future.

"After many years, I feel this is a special team and I hope for these players to live some great emotions that I could not experience with the national team. I hope it will happen this summer, but they deserve it anyways."