untung99.biz: Following in mothers footsteps was reason Paolo Banchero picked USA Basketball

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Paolo Banchero saw the picture every day at his family home. It was a team photo of a USA Basketball squad from the 1990s, one that included his mother.

Red, white and blue seeds were planted.

“That USA team photo was hung up in the basement, and my room was in the basement,” Banchero said. “I saw that every single day. That was literally one of my biggest dreams as a kid, to play for USA.”

And in the end, that picture was the biggest factor in why he’ll be playing for USA Basketball this summer and likely beyond. The reigning NBA rookie of the year from the Orlando Magic is one of 12 players picked to play for the U.S. in this summer’s Basketball World Cup. The Americans start camp in Las Vegas in early August and the tournament in the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan starts on Aug. 25.

“I think the beauty of a player like Paolo — and I watched him even before his freshman year at Duke — is his game, his versatility, his size, his feel,” said USA Basketball managing director Grant Hill, who, like Banchero, also played at Duke for former U.S. national team coach Mike Krzyzewski. “I think he has a chance to be a part of USA Basketball, hopefully, for many more opportunities in the future.”

For 11 of the 12 players on the team, the selection process was simple: They accepted an invitation from Hill and the rest of the USA Basketball braintrust.

Banchero’s decision-making process was different. He had another option; he holds an Italian passport along with a U.S. one because of his father’s Italian heritage.

Banchero had a strong relationship in high school with Riccardo Fois, now an Arizona assistant who at the time was coaching at Gonzaga, not far from Banchero’s home. Fois is Italian, played for the national team and helped open Banchero’s eyes to the possibility of playing for Italy. That led to the Italians offering Banchero a spot on their senior national team even before college, and Banchero nearly accepted — but plans got thwarted because of the pandemic.

Also at play at that time: Banchero tried to make some USA Basketball teams when he was younger, and never got picked. That left him frustrated, and led to him exploring the opportunity to play for Italy.

“I was 17 when they asked and that was a time in my life where I felt like I couldn’t pass up on that opportunity because my dad’s side of the family is Italian,” Banchero said in Las Vegas this week, after posing with the Naismith Trophy — which will be presented to the World Cup champions. “And I didn’t know much about my Italian heritage. So, I felt like that was the perfect way to get to know more and become closer with my Italian heritage, which I have since then.

“But COVID kind of took that opportunity for me to play away, and that makes me think all the time about how different my life would have been if COVID never happened,” he added. “But I wasn’t able to play, went to Duke, had a great year, went No. 1 in the draft and, you know, circumstances change.”

Had he played at that level for Italy, he would have been ineligible to play later for the U.S.

The Italians, predictably, were disappointed by the news that Banchero will play for the U.S. — but the process gave the 6-foot-10 forward a greater appreciation of Italy.

He spent time there this summer, mostly near Genoa, the city in northern Italy where some of his ancestors hailed from. Banchero was always curious why he had a unique name — “I just thought I was a regular Black kid from Seattle,” he said — and soon became fascinated with the notion of exploring his roots. With a father named Mario, an uncle named Angelo and a brother named Julio, it didn’t take long for Banchero to embrace his uniqueness.

“I like having a unique name,” Banchero said. “When you think of Paolo, you think of me.”

Banchero got to Italy this summer for the first time and told his father — who hasn’t been yet — that it needs to be a regular trip for the family.

“You know how you kind of go somewhere and get like butterflies in your stomach because of the feelings you get? It was like that for me, no exaggeration,” Banchero said. “I was so proud that I got to do that.”

But he is American, born and raised here, and has the legacy of his mother playing for her country as well. When Banchero went to Duke, Krzyzewski asked if he still intended to play for the Italian team. Banchero insisted he was. Krzyzewski asked him to think about it, and told him how Kyrie Irving went through a similar thought process a few years earlier when he was weighing whether to play internationally for Australia. Krzyzewski and Irving went on to win an Olympic gold together for the U.S.

“All of those factors kind of played into the decision,” Banchero said. “They were in my mind when I really sat down to think about this.”

Hill spoke often with Banchero’s agent, NBA champion Mike Miller. He didn’t pressure Banchero, who wrestled with the decision for months. A few weeks ago, his choice was finally official.

He’s going to follow in Rhonda Smith-Banchero’s footsteps and get his own team picture with USA Basketball.

“The guys on this team, from playing against them, I know they all make winning plays,” Banchero said. “And I think we’re all going to buy in, as a collective, and try to win this gold medal.”


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