By Cesare Milanti / email@example.com
MANILA, Philippines – The moment for Italy has come. By beating Puerto Rico in what looks exactly like an Eight-Finals game, they would return to the World Cup Top-8 for the first time in 25 years. Moreover, this game will coincide with Gigi Datome‘s 200th outing with the Italian national team.
Talking before such an important occasion, Italy’s captain spoke to Italian media to recall his 16-year run with the national team, 22 if we consider his trajectory with the youth squads. “It’s an amazing achievement. I spent so many years with this jersey, I’ve always tried to be here within my limits. The result is the dedication that I gave to the national team. Looking at the 10 players ahead of me, I don’t even tie their shoes: people like Meneghin, Riva, Brunamonti and Marzorati are the Mount Rushmore of Italian basketball. Being among them means I made something relevant, and I’m proud of it”, he first said.
Representing the national team has always been an honor for the former Fenerbahce player. “Since I started in 2001, every summer has always meant being with the national team. It’s a familiar atmosphere, I’ve spent way more summers with this jersey on than without. I’m lucky enough to make it at 35 years of age. I’ve always done it with great pleasure. The goal was to get here when I didn’t have to take it for granted. The Italian national team has always been my main goal in my career’s goal”, he added.
However, Gigi Datome is aware of the fact that this leads also to sacrifices. “It’s about one month when you’re away from your family and your surroundings. If there’s not a good environment, it’s tough to stay together. You lose personal moments: a friend’s graduation, one wedding, a funeral. Moments in which you should be close to your people. Still, the only summer in which I didn’t declare myself available for the national team, I had a tough time going through it”, he added.
Coming back to his last game so far with the Italian national team, beating Serbia, he remembered the 10 straight points scored between the third and fourth quarter. “My 199th night was great. In the first half, I committed two stupid fouls. I was worried about making such a bad game. Instead, with that break, we went back into the game. It will always be a fantastic memory. It’s not about the number, we hope it will be important to get to the next round. We’re masters of our own destiny, it’s no small thing”, the 35-year-old commented.
“Serbia has always been stronger than us, but in today’s basketball, if you play your game, everybody has a chance. We have clear structural limits. The most complete team was Berlin’s, with amazing talents and EuroLeague and NBA level second-unit. Basketball is wonderful for this: on the court, you always start from 00-00. If you put personality and physicality, you get a chance. Luck plays a good part as well: Bogdan Bogdanovic missed many shots, just like our team against the Dominican Republic. Basketball is growing in every part of the world, with head coaches and structures. You have to be ready, competitive, and inform yourself”, he went on to say about the victory against Serbia.
Looking at what will be the 200th time with this jersey, he will be only focused on what matters for their 2023 FIBA World Cup run. “This game looks exactly like an Eight-Finals. Better like this, so that I don’t think about being the 200th. Ravenna’s game was very tough emotionally for me, it was a celebration in which I was distracted by thousands of things. Better like this: This game doesn’t deserve distractions”, Datome commented on the clash against Puerto Rico.
Generally, he spent so much time with the Italian national team that he learned a lot from almost 100 teammates. “You build strong chemistry with colleagues when you sacrifice your summers to play for the national team. I had 95 teammates, and almost all of them left me something. Melli, Poeta, Mordente, and Cusin, for example, sacrificed lots of their summers with me”, he said.
A group like this, however, never was a reality in the past. “This complicity between us is difficult to find when you play for a club. In free moments, during the season, you try to stay with your family. Here, instead, we share everything. We’re all Italians here, we speak the same language. It’s not easy to find such chemistry in a club. It’s not the only thing that makes you the winner at the end, but it helps you step on the court lightly”, the 35-year-old forward added. “We have values, guts, minds, and hearts. We are a great group”, he also said.
— Italbasket (@Italbasket) September 2, 2023
Talking about the stories this Italian national team will tell, Gigi Datome had time to speak about everybody. “Every player on our team has a story. Diouf came to Reggio Emilia at 4 years of age, We will remember this first Italian summer for Spagnolo and Procida, Melli has a resounding career, and Ricci is crucial for us and is engaged in social activities. Fontecchio didn’t have offers in Italy, he went abroad and now you can see where he is. Polonara was changing one team every tear, and now he’s such an important player. Severini was playing in the Italian second division, and look at which minutes he played against Serbia”, he added.
“Every story deserved to be told, even the ones who didn’t make it with us. This gets the audience closer. Spissu left Sardinia, he was sleeping in a locker room when he moved to Bari and became the starting point guard of the national team which beat Serbia. Tonut and Pajola, who come off the bench and help us. I’ve never seen a defender like him, he takes shots with confidence and makes the right choices”, Gigi Datome continued.
Playing both in the NBA and for Fenerbahce, the experienced small forward is just one of many Italian talents who showcased their abilities abroad. “Playing abroad gives you the opportunity to explore the world from a different point of view. Being five years in Turkey helped me a lot. Many of us established ourselves abroad, but what about the Serbian players? They all play far from home. Having Italian players to play outside of Italy doesn’t necessarily mean things are not working. Matteo Spagnolo had the opportunity of being the starting point guard for a EuroLeague team: he did the right thing”, he said.
Finally, he concluded by praising Gianmarco Pozzecco, his last-ever head coach. “I’ve never been part of such a well-oiled group. Pozzecco believes a lot in us and manages to create respect, trust, and collaboration. It was a player, he’s unique. I’ve never had such a head coach. Sometimes you find a filter between players and coaches. Instead, we say everything to each other, everything we think of. He wanted it to be like this, and we are responsible enough to not take advantage of that. He trusts us, and we will never betray him”, Gigi Datome said about the 50-year-old legendary figure.
PHOTO CREDIT: 2023 FIBA World Cup