By Dionysis Aravantinos / email@example.com
After five years in Istanbul with Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, one of the most respected Turkish Airlines EuroLeague veterans decided to change teams and sign a three-year deal with AX Armani Exchange Milan. Gigi Datome returned to his home country after seven years, hoping to be able to win some titles with Milan’s team.
The 32-year old sharpshooter recently caught up with Eurohoops to discuss his off-season move, EuroLeague games getting postponed, the expectations he has from himself and Olimpia this year, as well as his future and retirement.
EuroLeague is officially back. How has the whole situation been for you?
Gigi Datome: It’s a new world. We have to adapt. We are lucky enough to have a charter every time we fly which is something very convenient for us. We try to stay safe, stay positive and keep on playing. What can we do?
Compared to other years, is the situation more difficult in terms of traveling?
GD: No, I don’t necessarily see a difference in that. For me, it’s my first time in a new team in quite some time, so everything is pretty much new, but the organization is very good and very helpful. As far as the traveling, I don’t see a big difference. The only difference is that people are concerned, but everybody is doing their best to follow the protocols, keep on practicing and playing in the safest way possible.
Since you’re the president and thus one of the most active members of ELPA, what’s your opinion on the EuroLeague games that are being canceled and eventually postponed. What’s the best way to deal with that?
GD: The 0-20 result was not fair and I’m glad that they changed it. I’m glad that EuroLeague is collaborating with ELPA to listen to our opinions and work together in the same direction, because both sides want the same thing; to play basketball and give fans the best product. The decision to postpone games is fair and of course, everybody is hoping that no team is in that situation. But we know that it can happen to everyone, so it’s good that the teams will have the ability to postpone the games.
How different has this year been for you individually? After all, you changed teams and moved countries this past off-season.
GD: It was different. I was five years in Istanbul and every off-season, everything was easier to restart. Now it’s a new challenge, some changes of course, but I must say that the club, my teammates, the organization helped me a lot in the process and adjusting as quickly as possible. I’m glad that I’m here and I’m happy to contribute to Milan’s new goals.
What made you sign that deal with Olimpia Milan in the summer?
GD: I saw a new challenge, keep on being in an organization that’s very ambitious, high-level. I felt that I achieved a lot with Fenerbahce and for Fenerbahce, so it was time for a new challenge for me. I saw it as a challenge of trying to win trophies in my own country, which is something that I never did so far in my career. I had this chip on my shoulder and I think it was good timing for me to change teams.
Did the fact that Ettore Messina was the head coach of the team play any role in your decision?
GD: Yes, of course. I evaluated the whole package of the team. The fact that I was going back to my own country, in a big EuroLeague team, a great and ambitious organization in the city of Milan… trying to reach the playoffs, with Ettore Messina as the coach, players like Chacho (Sergio Rodriguez), Kyle Hines and the rest of the players that signed this summer. I saw a very good team and myself fitting perfectly. I hope of course that I made a good choice, but I’ll tell you at the end of the season.
What did you make of the team that the front office managed to put together?
GD: They had some targets and they managed to sign them. I think free agency was really successful for Milan. At the end of the off-season we had a full roster to compete and try to win in Italy. A lot of people say that we are contenders for the Final Four, but I see the EuroLeague playoffs as an honest, realistic goal. And then we’ll see. Still I think there are 4-5 teams better than us with more experience. It’s good to focus on the playoffs. The roster is full which is something that will be useful in such a long season. You need a lot of energy and I think we have all the pieces to compete.
In many people’s eyes, Milan was the winner of the off-season, in terms of bringing in big names, EuroLeague veterans and proven winners. Because of that, fans around Europe expect you to be contenders in all competitions. Does this put extra pressure on you guys?
GD: I don’t listen a lot to predictions, because I know that the team is new and we still need to grow as a group. I like the seriousness and work ethic of this group, it is something that can bring us a long way, but again I think there are teams that are more prepared, more experienced than us that have the final four as a goal. There’s always pressure when you play for Milan, because fans in Milan expect a lot from you, and if you don’t win in Italy, it’s basically considered a failure. There is pressure, but if you decide to be part of a big team, you must understand what pressure means. It’s something good in our athlete life, to have pressure. It means that you are in a good spot.
Olimpia Milan hasn’t made the EuroLeague playoffs since 2014. Is that your first goal, or do you talk about the Final Four as well?
GD: No, I told you three times. Our goal is the playoffs. First of all, in such a long season you need to think about the next practice; to be the best teammate in the next practice, next game, etc. We won the first trophy, in front of us there are a lot of games in the EuroLeague. There is the Italian Cup in February, which is another goal, but if we manage to work seriously and play hard, we can have an honest goal in reaching the playoffs. And if we reach the playoffs, we’ll see in which shape we’re going to be mentally and physically, and we think about it. But it’s a long way, and we have to be focused on the next game, and that’s it.
What goal have you set individually for your first year in Milan?
GD: I have the same goal as when I was in Fenerbahce. When you arrive in such a big club, your personal goal must be the same with the team goal. If the team reaches its goals at the end of the season, I will be happy. Especially now even more. I’m about to be 33 years old, and so I really enjoy being part of winning situations. So, I bring my experience in the team and have responsibilities when on the court. To have Milan win titles in Italy and be better in Europe than they were the years before, are my main goals.
What does the future hold for Gigi Datome?
GD: Good question and I don’t know the answer to it. I still have a lot of fun while playing basketball, but of course I’m starting to think about the future. This is my 18th season as a professional basketball player. For sure I don’t have 18 more years in front of me as a basketball player, so it’s time for me to start thinking of what’s next.
Do you have anything in particular planned for life after retirement?
GD: I’m pretty sure that I won’t be a basketball coach. I don’t know if I will stay in basketball. Maybe yes, maybe no. I’m open to everything. My only goal is to find something that gives me the same desire to to go to work like I do now. It’s going to be tough, but that’s the goal.