Nico Mannion raring to go for Italy again if called upon

    VARESE (Italy) - Nico Mannion was there, in Belgrade, the week that Italy had their great triumph in 2021, when they won the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament to reach the Tokyo Games.

    VARESE (Italy) - Nico Mannion was there, in Belgrade, the week that Italy had their great triumph in 2021, when they won the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia to reach the Tokyo Games. Three years later, the guard wants to meet the same challenge.

    "If (Coach Gianmarco) Pozzecco calls me, I'll be there 100 percent," he said to la Repubblica. "I care about the blue shirt to death and I would like to return to the Olympics, with a real hunger... without the physical problems I had three years ago.

    "I CARE ABOUT THE BLUE SHIRT TO DEATH AND I WOULD LIKE TO RETURN TO THE OLYMPICS, WITH A REAL HUNGER..."


    "The relationship with Poz is excellent and it is extraordinary to see what the team manages to do thanks to the strength he transmits to us."

    Back to 2021. Everything clicked that summer for the Azzurri, under then-coach Meo Sacchetti. Italy played with the sort of intensity its fans hadn't witnessed since it went on the unexpected run to the 2004 Olympic Final.

    ...


    And on a scale of 1 to 10 in intensity, Mannion was a 10. In their opener against Puerto Rico, he played his customary ball-hawking defense, made six of 11 shots from the floor and finished with 21 points and a team-high six assists as Italy won, 90-83.

    After scoring eight points in 13 minutes of a blowout win over the Dominican Republic, Mannion imposed his will on Serbia in the OQT Final with hard drives to the bucket. He got to the line a lot, where he made all nine of his free-throw attempts while scoring 24 points and Italy prevailed, 102-95.

    Against the opposition at the Tokyo Games, his numbers weren't quite as good yet he helped Italy get to the Quarter-Finals.

    Mannion is now hoping he's selected for Italy as they play at the FIBA OQT in Puerto Rico from July 2 to July 7. 

    There will be no shortage of players putting their hands up to play at the OQT. One who has yet to suit up for the Italians but wants to possibly as early as this summer is Donte DiVincenzo of the New York Knicks.

    Earlier last month, DiVincenzo said that "to wear the Azzurri jersey would be truly special," and that his agent was talking with the Italian Basketball Federation.

    Mannion, who began this season playing for Baskonia in Spain but parted ways with the club and is now in Italy playing for Varese, looks to be in good health.

    He suited up for the national team in the February window for the FIBA EuroBasket 2025 Qualifiers and helped Italy defeat Hungary and Türkiye.

    He had 15 points and five assists as his Varese team hosted and won the first leg of their FIBA Europe Cup Semi-Final against Bahcesehir College, 81-80. In the second leg in Istanbul, Türkiye, despite another all-around performance of 5 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals from Mannion, Varese took in an 81-73 loss and missed a trip to the Final.

    Having previously played for Virtus Bologna, Mannion is happy to be back in Italy, with Varese.

    "Now I'm here, in a beautiful place to play basketball," he said. "You feel the history, the weight of championships, trophies."

    Varese were five times European champions and five times finalists between 1970 and 1979.

    "And from the first day, I received so much support," Mannion said.

    Mannion concedes he has had some struggles in the past couple of years but believes he is a better player because of it.

    "The past is the experience you have left, which you need to become a better player."

    In the San Juan OQT, which tips off July 2 and concludes July 7, Italy will be in Group B with hosts Puerto Rico and Bahrain. In Group A are Lithuania, Mexico and Côte d'Ivoire. Only the country that wins the OQT will reach the Olympics.

    FIBA

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