The winger intervenes on the ‘soap opera’ linked to the player’s name and the chance, which later faded, that he could play in the next World Cup for the Azzurri
Without Paolo Banchero in the national basketball team “we won’t lose anything because whoever joins the national team must want to do so, must be aware of what it means to wear the blue shirt, which is above all a responsibility but also a great honour. There are players who they would give everything to be able to do it and of these players – of those we already have available, I remain super confident, also because we have shown a little something in the last two years”. As Simone Fontecchio, forward of the Italian national basketball team, regarding the ‘telenovela’ linked to the name of Paolo Banchero and the chance, which then waned, that he could play in the next World Cup for the Azzurri. “I’ve always followed the Banchero affair with detachment and I don’t want to say that I knew it, that it would end like this, but I imagined it”, he says.
Simone Fontecchio’s first year in the NBA was also the first year of reconstruction of the new Utah Jazz (those who have put the years of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert behind them). An almost parallel path, which the blue evaluates to the microphones of Sky Sport: “We have built well and a lot, especially on young people – and the three choices in the first round of the Draft give us an excellent perspective for the future”, says Fontecchio. “We have an All-Star player, Lauri [Markkanen] which exploded this year and on which we place great hopes and also responsibilities, but the whole group has grown a lot”. A process – that of growth – which must also closely concern the n°16 of the Jazz, who after a good first year wants to earn an even more important place in coach Will Hardy’s rotations: “The aspects of the game I have to work on are very clear: the ability to create from the dribble – an aspect of the game that perhaps in America they ask me a little less , but which I want to develop – and the defense, where I can still improve. But I’m also aware of my strong points, such as shooting and athleticism: and I hold on to them.”
The blue says he understood he was ready to make the leap to the NBA “already during the Olympics” (in the summer of 2021, in Tokyo) but that he “really realized I was there in the match against Houston, when I scored my first points. There I understood that the dream – a dream that I could not even afford to dream, as a child – was finally real. At that moment I stopped for a moment and said to myself: ‘Enjoy it!'”. But then the gaze must always be projected forward, onto the future – and Fontecchio has clear ideas: “I set myself the goal of having a long career in the NBA but even if it ends up being short, returning to Europe would absolutely not be a rejection , as demonstrated by Nicolò’s successes, even recent ones [Melli] and Gigi [Datome]two players who for me, by value, are two NBA players”.
Even before his future NBA, however, the guard born in Pescara has yet another challenge ahead of him, the one with the blue shirt at the summer World Cup (from August 25 on Sky). Expectations – after a fifth place in the Olympics and a European Championship that saw us a whisker away from reaching the semifinals – are high. “We are aware of this but one of the strengths of this group is humility and we must not lose it, despite having the right ‘hunger’ to go and get what we can get”, says Fontecchio. Who, pending Gallinari’s choice, is the only NBA player in the blue group: “True, but we have a lot of experience, now we know how to play certain matches and we have the possibility, with our small quintets, to put many opponents in difficulty “, he argues. “The podium? Yes, it can be reached – he says – but it takes luck, as well as skill: the draw favored us, but then you have to play and win matches. Last year at the European Championships we had an incredible match against Serbia but making just one wasn’t enough,” he recalls. Because then those cursed free throws arrived in the final against France: “It’s an episode: mistakes happen, they are made, but you learn from mistakes to go on. It’s something that definitely made me feel bad, but should if a situation like this happens again, I would definitely go and get that ball back, and also those responsibilities”, affirms the blue confidently.