By Cesare Milanti/ email@example.com
Imagine being called for the first time to coach in the Italian first division.
In the team that, as a player, you have dragged for eight long years, inspiring thousands of young fans to imitate your moves in several playgrounds.
The Red-and-White banner is waiting for you, for the first time from the other side of the stage: no longer on the court, but trying to contain the emotions of the game from the bench.
It’s the city derby, against Cantu. You win, reacting like this.
And it doesn’t surprise anyone, because Gianmarco Pozzecco’s fable has always been dotted with moments like this.
Born in 1972 a few kilometers from the border with what is now Slovenia and growing up playing basketball in Udine, he has always considered his home Trieste: the emotion of debuting as a coach of the Italian National Team in his city proves it.
When his basketball career took off, however, he did not return to play where the strong wind blows, remaining faithful for several years to another Red-and-White team.
One would have expected that a character out of the ordinary like his could constantly change jerseys, in search of new challenges. Instead, he carved his name in the history of Pallacanestro Varese, going every year closer to the goal, until the magical 1999, with the victory of the tenth Scudetto in the history of the club.
A team, the one that Pozzecco managed to control as the main point guard, boasting players such as Andrea Meneghin, Veljko Mršić, Cecco Vescovi, Alessandro De Pol, Giacomo Galanda and Daniel Santiago. On the bench, there was Charlie Recalcati, who today is Gianmarco Pozzecco’s senior assistant in the technical staff of Italy.
Varese returned to glory, and Pozzecco recounted in his book his life off the court during those magical seasons: “There wasn’t a Sunday night when I didn’t make the sunrise with a drink in my hand. I wonder how many of you saw me at Hollywood (ed. note: a club) in Milan with two glasses in my hand and a cigarette in my mouth. But the other days of the week where was I? When you went out and got drunk again on Friday or Saturday night? I’ll tell you: home!”.
Take him or leave him.
These are years in which Pozzecco’s talent somehow reaches the States: Allen Iverson arrives in Varese in the summer to play 3×3 games, while the following year the team plays the McDonald’s Open, coming close to a win against Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs.
“That redheaded guy impressed me…”, Tim Duncan said at the end of the game. And who could have dyed his hair red? Just imagine.
Gianmarco Pozzecco was at the pinnacle of his career, one of the most talented playmakers in Europe. He had played in the 1998 World Cup, but a disagreement with Bogdan Tanjević did not allow him to be present for the Italian triumph of EuroBasket 1999, in a stellar team: Gianluca Basile, Gregor Fučka, Carlton Myers, Andrea Meneghin, and many others. He was very close, however, to land in the NBA.
In the summer of 2001, after averaging 27 points per game in Serie A, he tried the American adventure. Both the Phoenix Suns and the Toronto Raptors were interested, and before choosing the team, he played a scrimmage with several NBA stars, in Chicago. Michael Jordan was there, undecided whether or not to return to play with the Washington Wizards. Legend has it that the little guy from Trieste stole his ball, and Pozzecco recently confirmed it: “There were 25 black players, and then me. Michael Jordan said “Who the fuck is that guy?”. We play, he tries to catch a ball by throwing it back after a wrong pass from a teammate, and I catch it up. Legend has it that I said to him: “Michael, I thought you were a little stronger…”.
In the Summer League with the Raptors, he put up 7 points and 6 assists against both the Memphis Grizzlies and the Utah Jazz. But the memorable episode came a few days later. After complaining about not getting a call, an opposing coach told him: “Shut up, this is the NBA!”.
In the next action, he stopped and shot from 8 meters, scoring and mimicking the three-point gesture. Iconic.
When Toronto decided not to bet on him, given his physical shape and advanced age (29 years), he scored 20 points in 21 minutes against the San Antonio Spurs. ESPN packed a whole story about him, saying: “Are we so sure we want to let him go?”. Three years later, a few days before the 2004 Athens Olympics, he bowed down to the public after Italy’s historic 95-78 victory over the United States in a prep game that included Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade.
And then came Athens. Charlie Recalcati called him back to the National Team and the rest is history. The record number of assists (12) of the competition against China, the transition from the group stage with the 76-75 victory against Argentina, the quarter-final against Puerto Rico, and the magical semi-final won against Lithuania, with Pozzecco closing the game with 17 points and 4 threes, all over to the silver medal after the defeat to the Generación Dorada of Luis Scola and Manu Ginobili, who already proved to be a tough opponent to face in the Italian playoffs.
Before he retired as a player there were the adventures at Jasmin Repesa’s Fortitudo Bologna, the experiences abroad with Zaragoza and Khimki, and the return to Italy with Orlandina. A small town in Sicily where Gianmarco Pozzecco is a local idol. He picked the team and rejected Virtus Bologna, saying he could have not played against Varese wearing the jersey of those bitter rivals. In Capo d’Orlando he retired twice: the first in 2008, and the second in 2010, after returning briefly to play in the lower categories.
His career as a coach started at Orlandina, before returning to Varese in the game mentioned earlier. The most remembered moment of his experience on that bench, however, came in another derby, against Olimpia Milano: Pozzecco got ejected for getting two technical fouls (does it sound familiar?) and he ripped his shirt before leaving the court.
Two years as assistant coach to Veljko Mršić at KK Cedevita followed next, where he honed his tactical knowledge of the game and coached players such as Jacob Pullen, Ryan Boatright, Pierre Jackson, a very young Dzanan Musa, and Miro Bilan, who recently told a curious anecdote about The Atomic Fly and his assistant coach Edoardo Casalone, at the time of Dinamo Sassari.
During my two seasons in Sassari, Poz was ejected 8 times, and Edo became head coach during the game.
— Miro Bilan (@M1roB1lan) September 11, 2022
Yes, Sassari: the place where Gianmarco Pozzecco became a coach of the highest level, shaping his game on a rhythmic and lively basketball in transition, as well as taking advantage of the low-post. He won the FIBA Europe Cup, he arrived at the Scudetto Final beating Olimpia Milan 3-0 (and giving his credit card to his players, just like Sunday against Serbia), and he won the Italian Super Cup.
The adventure ended in an unexpected way in the summer of 2021, when his arrival on the technical staff of legendary Ettore Messina in Milan was surprisingly announced. A decision that amazed everyone, but that produced results: the opposite but complementary characteristics of the two were the ingredients for the perfect recipe for Milan, which won the Scudetto and the Italian Cup, almost reaching the EuroLeague Final Four but being eliminated in the playoffs by eventual champions Anadolu Efes.
The sacking of Meo Sacchetti and Pozzecco’s call to the Italian national team bench started a new and already memorable adventure, which includes “the most important game in the history of Italian basketball”, according to him plus a hug and a kiss, followed by “I love you, Giannis”.
Gianmarco Pozzecco doesn’t fake any of this. He is really experiencing crazy emotions with this Italian national team, a natural evolution of everything that he has already experienced in his career. It’s an amusement park between the court and the bench, between spectacular plays and moments that will remain in history.
“A tip to a young basketball player? Do everything I didn’t do and you’ll see that everything will be fine”.
It’s up to you to decide whether or not to follow his advice.