25 August, 2023
10 September
Paolo Banchero: ''The goal is to be at the FIBA World Cup 2023''
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Paolo Banchero: ''The goal is to be at the FIBA World Cup 2023''

ORLANDO (Italy) - Fingers are crossed in Italy that rising star Paolo Banchero will suit up for the Azzurri next summer at the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Banchero, the top pick in this summer's NBA Draft by Orlando, is excited about the prospect of playing for the Italians.

His father is of Italian descent while mother is a former USA national team player. Banchero wants to feel the buzz of the international game.

"The way of playing is a bit different, but I'll give everything, all my energy, and impact the national team in the best way I can," he told FIBA early november.


The game's best players all compete for national teams on international basketball's big stages.

This summer, Luka Doncic of Slovenia, Nikola Jokic of Serbia and Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece all competed at FIBA EuroBasket 2022.

So did Banchero's Orlando Magic teammate, Franz Wagner, for Germany.

Dirk Nowitzki of Germany, Pau Gasol of Spain and Kobe Bryant of the USA, just to name a few, all turned out for their national teams.

The projected first overall pick in next year's NBA Draft, Victor Wembanyama, played in Window 5 of the World Cup European Qualifiers.

"I really think that FIBA basketball is very interesting, and watching the guys play for their national teams is something great to watch and to analyze," Banchero said.

"The EuroBasket was very, very competitive, and the fans sounded fantastic, looking at those filled arenas and loud crowds that played their sixth man role so well. That's amazing.

"The teams were filled with very talented guys, and a couple of NBA stars, but despite that, Spain won and showed that basketball is a team sport and that teams that play very united and share the ball have more chances to win titles and medals.

"The level of competitiveness in Europe is very, very high, and the future is very bright.

"Seeing guys like Giannis, Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic, for example, are great for European basketball. Their passion and love to represent their country is a great thing to see."

Italy, despite being underdogs, won their Round of 16 game against Serbia, 94-86. That game is now the stuff of legend, how coach Gianmarco Pozzecco was ejected in the first half with Italy trailing, yet the players rallied for victory.

"They had very good games, and I really liked the way they played against Serbia, where they showed unbelievable defense and great movement on offense," Banchero said. "That was very impressive, very good to watch.

"The passion and the unity they have is fantastic, and the passion that the coach and the staff put on; the way the team plays is also superb."

Italy raised a lot of eyebrows with their victory over Serbia, a country with a rich tradition in basketball and one that has produced some of the best players in the world.

"To beat a team like Serbia, it shows what the Squadra Azzura is capable of," Banchero said. "We have a very good team, and the future is bright, that's for sure."

Italy fell in the Quarter-Finals to France.

One of the guards in the Auzzurri team, Nico Mannion, has called Banchero the missing link, the player that can make a very good Italy a great Italy.

Banchero says Mannion "tells me great things about the Squadra Azzura, about the guys and the coaching staff"

"Nico's a good friend of mine, and we talk often about various things," Banchero said.

"I always want to know more about Italy, about the culture and about the national team because I'm also a student of the game. He only tells me great things about the Squadra Azzura, and about the guys and the coaching staff."

Mannion has shown how a young player from the United States can be a good fit for a European national side and thrive. He was born and raised in the USA and played college basketball for Arizona before turning pro. He is on the books of Virtus Bologna.

He was outstanding last year for Italy when they won the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade.

"I'm happy for him, to see that he loves representing the country and loving playing at international level," Banchero said. "He's a very good player, and I also congratulated him and the guys after their great run at the last EuroBasket."

Once Banchero does play for Italy, he just wants to fit in.

"The team is first, and the unity and the collective force are the most important things in basketball," he said. "We play a team sport, and the most important is the team, not the individual.

"To win, you have to bring the best of the players, and play as one. When I play for the national team, I'll be another player, and I'll commit myself to being the best teammate, example and player I can be to help Italy. Basketball is a team sport, and I'll be excited to bring my contribution to the team at some point and achieve great things."

Danilo Gallinari, who played for Italy at the Tokyo Games, is looking forward to Banchero joining the national team.

Danilo Gallinari, who got hurt before the EuroBasket and couldn't play in Milan and Berlin, has also spoken highly of Banchero. 

"I have a lot of respect for his career and for being such a great example for Italian basketball," Banchero said. "I love his moves, the way he shoots the ball; he is a fantastic scorer and his long career speaks for itself. He's been helping the national team for such a long time, and he's a great leader, a guy you want to play with. Danilo is a baller, that's for sure."

Another link to Italy for Banchero is Riccardo Fois, an assistant with Italy's team who also worked with Gonzaga University, the Phoenix Suns and Arizona.

"We have a good connection, and we talk a lot about the national team and Italian basketball in general," Banchero said. "I really enjoy having him as a friend, and as a guy that gives me a lot of information about the national team and basketball in Italy.

Banchero is confident he can make whatever adjustments are needed to play what some call "FIBA ball." He is proving already to be one a star in the NBA.

"I'm not worried about it because I am a student of the game and I know that I'll do all the adjustments and be the best player I can be at every level," he said.

"I like to learn and to improve as a player, and I'll adapt and be ready to play at FIBA level, that's for sure."