Paolo Banchero vs. Italy: Why Team USA commitment triggered Italians

Donatas Urbonas
Senior Staff Writer
2023-09-05 05:23

Paolo Banchero had a verbal commitment to play for Italy. However, his change of allegiance to Team USA left the Italian basketball community upset.

Credit: AP - Scanpix
Credit AP - Scanpix

"No," Paolo Banchero responded the night before the Team USA and Italy battle in the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals when asked if he had any message for Italian basketball fans.

Italian basketball fans, who were eager for an explanation as to why Paolo Banchero ultimately chose to represent the USA instead of Italy, despite his numerous verbal commitments in 2022, found themselves once again deeply disturbed.

It will certainly add a level of spiciness ahead of the crucial quarterfinal showdown between the USA and Italy.

Paolo Banchero

Paolo  Banchero
Position: PF
Age: 20
Height: 208 cm
Weight: 113 kg
Birth place: Seattle, United States of America

Banchero clarified his commitment to the USA at the start of the training camp. However, the entire saga of his recruitment, especially considering his initial verbal commitment to play for Italy, warrants a detailed explanation.

BasketNews will guide you through the entire timeline of Banchero's decision between Italy and the USA.

Italian roots

Paolo Banchero's Italian heritage can be traced back to his great-great-grandfather, who was born in Italy and then moved to Seattle, where he established his family.

Even though Paolo's family members in the following generations were born and raised in Seattle, they held onto their Italian connection, evident in their names, such as Mario, Angelo, Armando, Giulio, and Paolo.

Notably, neither Paolo nor his father, Mario, had ever been to Italy.

Paolo's mother played basketball professionally, both in the WNBA and the US Women's National Team.

Italian Basketball Federation inquiry

Banchero's Italian roots were confirmed when the Italian Basketball Federation contacted his father when Paolo was 16. They inquired about his Italian heritage and the possibility of obtaining Italian citizenship.

Paolo's father confirmed their Italian roots, kickstarting a process that involved multiple trips to San Francisco to meet with officials at the Italian embassy and attend several meetings, ultimately resulting in Paolo obtaining his Italian passport.

At a young age, Banchero wasn't on the radar of the Team USA basketball program.

Banchero's statements timeline

We provide a timeline of Banchero's quotes on his plans to represent Italy in FIBA basketball competitions and how the situation started changing.

Date Banchero's quotes
2021-11-26 "It kept building inside me, you know, this interest for Italy and the love I've been feeling from the country. So I'm excited to play for Italy, representing Italy, and eventually get out there."
2022-06-04 "Yes, my intention is to play for the Italian NT," Banchero added during the interview. "I'm excited because my NBA career is about to start, and I hope my international career will begin soon."
2022-06-24 "The support I have received so far from Italy has been fantastic. This summer, I won't be able to play with the national team, but next summer, I will be there."
2022-10-05 "It [World Cup] is my goal. I cannot guarantee that I'll be there 100% since I still have to start my first NBA season, but it's something that I'm thinking about. When the moment comes, I'll make a decision."

"I'm planning to play for the Italian national team, I'm not sure when," Banchero added. "I haven't been out there yet, but man, the amount of love I'm getting from there it's crazy, man. It's crazy. I can't wait to go to Italy". 

"Team USA? No, I'm with Italy now."

2022-11-24 "The way of playing is a bit different, but I'll give everything, all my energy, and impact the national team in the best way I can."
2023-04-12 "Everyone asks me the question about the national team, but I haven't decided yet. Italy came forward when I was discarded by Team USA in high school. I had the passport opportunity, and I took it, and they helped me. Probably without Covid, I would have made my debut in the Olympics, but in the meanwhile, many things happened, and now the situation is different."
Later events

Italy NT head coach Gianmarc Pozzecco: "We were dreaming and keeping our hopes alive, but everything has changed. He will give us an answer in a timely manner, I'm sure. In the meantime, we're moving on."

Italy basketball federation president Gianni Petrucci: "We agreed that we would talk at the end of his season in the NBA. But now we are on hold."

2023-05-29 Team USA managing director Grant Hill: "He's one of those players that we're following for the World Cup and also for the future of Team USA. We know that he has different options, but we're optimistic about our chances."
2023-06-10 Banchero's agent, Mike Miller: "He would like to play for both national teams, but he knows very well he can't do it. So he will have to make a decision, but we don't know when that will be."
2023-06-24 Shams Charania reports: Paolo Banchero commits to Team USA

Italian Basketball Federation reaction

"It was a legitimate decision, but he could have made a call to communicate that to us. Instead, we learned his decision from the newspapers," Italy basketball federation president Petrucci told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "In the past few days, he was in Milan, and despite our agreements with his agency, he avoided the meeting with coach Pozzecco."

"Betrayal, especially in basketball, is a strong word. Situations like this happen, and personally, I'm used to it. But he fooled us, we were planning a great commercial strategy for him. Now we need to turn this disappointment into positive energy, I'm sure our coach will be able to do it," Petrucci added.

Banchero's explanation

"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. 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," the player told Tim Reynolds from the Associated Press.

"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. 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."

"It was a drawn-out process, choosing between (USA and Italy). I decided this was where I wanted to be. My mother played for Team USA, so it was always a dream of mine," Banchero told The Athletic's Joe Vardon during Team USA's first days of training camp. 

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