Italy, the end of a journey beyond expectations – OA Sport

Italbasket’s trip to the Tokyo Olympics ended a few hours ago, and thus also ended the blue summer which began, to a certain extent, even before the end of the championship final between Virtus Bologna and Olimpia Milano. A summer that has given a number of satisfactions that, perhaps, not even the most optimistic would have really dared to hope.

There are many facets, some beautiful and some a little less beautiful, behind this journey. The beautiful ones, of course, can be summed up in one thing: the group. The one in the hands of Meo Sacchetti may not have been the best team available on paper, but it was the spirit that lived inside. That spirit without which so many things would never have happened: the Belgrade feat, the last minutes with Germany, the thrust against Nigeria. The team that was created, in essence, was able to compete with everyone. Without exception.

And to say that everything had started badly, very badly indeed. A bit unfortunate, this is true: entering the race at the Pre-Olympic after more than 10 days of forced stop because Venezuela found itself with Covid cases and Senegal was forced to give up in turn due to multiple infections and the inability to leave Germany in good time. All this certainly did not facilitate the approach to the first race, the one with Puerto Rico. And so the first 17 minutes arrived, those in which it was played really badly, but followed by a great reaction. And from there it all started: the recovery, the first victory, then the second (easy) over the Dominican Republic, and finally the test with Serbia, one of the greatest blue matches in the history of the wedge ball.

Note of merit for Danilo Gallinari. It came with the effort of the Conference final with the Atlanta Hawks, but on tiptoe. His entry in the place of Abass was what was immediately ventilated, and which was then confirmed to the test of the facts. And Danilo answered this once again. But it did more. With Germany he removed the chestnuts from the fire. He hurt his knee again. Sacchetti has preserved it, both with Australia and with Nigeria. She needed him for a game. That very specific match, against France. 21 points and 10 rebounds. Double double. Without fear, trying everything to be decisive, including a shot from the equilibrium that to define precarious is also little, to try to defeat the transalpines. He didn’t make it, but once again he proved why he is the strongest player in Italy. And in many ways it is unpleasant, and not a little, to see that in his palmares, for a long series of coincidences, there is nothing at the team level.

But these Olympics have shown so many things. One above all: Simone Fontecchio is ready for the high level. Even from America they said to themselves “but why have we ignored this until now and don’t play in the NBA?” and maybe there is some reason. The figures are enough: we are talking about someone who scored 18.7 points with 57.6% from two, 45.4% from three, 81.8% from the line, 3 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 16.7 ratings on average. At Baskonia they will be happy to have it in the coming season. A little less opponents. But it’s nice that it has finally shed light on a player who, in Italy, had been too often mistreated and who, on the other hand, is really someone who can change their games. A story of growth abroad, his, which follows that of Nicolò Melli (but not that of Achille Polonara, which has followed a different path for how it has evolved, remaining in the field of the players of this Olympic group). And that must create a first front for reflection on the growth of our players in Italy, where the big names are often reluctant to give them a relevant space.

In this sense there is the notable exception of Alessandro Pajola, product of Virtus Bologna without ifs and buts, protagonist for all the youth teams, grew up between A2 and then A, found himself with people of the caliber of Mario Chalmers first, Milos Teodosic and Stefan Markovic then, to learn tricks. And, in the meantime, he has become a European-level defensive specialist. Full demonstration with France, where he was not afraid of anyone. In a literal sense. Not even Rudy Gobert. He will be one of the men of the future, and always speaking of the future, the prospects exist and are good: Matteo Spagnolo and Gabriele Procida are just two of the names, without getting to Paolo Banchero which was blocked here by Duke (problem that Daniel Hackett, early in his career in the USC era, he remembers well). But perhaps the brightest part belongs to him, Nico Mannion, who missed the match with France in shooting, but made a fundamental contribution. From the series: without him, most likely, we would not have come this far. And returning to the big players and the spaces to the players, it is worth noting how Stefano Tonut has been substantially always raised by Reyer Venezia, to the point of resisting even the assaults of Olimpia Milano, who strongly wanted the player for the Euroleague.

However, these Olympic quarters must not make us forget several things: for example, the state of the art of Italian basketball, in a really complicated situation. If on the one hand even the clubs have found competitiveness in Europe, on the other there are many issues that need to be resolved, which are all those that are talked about in the newspapers and not only from the sports halls to the economic problems of the teams and, a fundamental factor still plus, the ability to give players the right throw between youth and senior formations. Because the real jump happens in that moment, and it needs to be handled well. We will also need to go back to building level centers, because we miss them terribly. It cannot be praiseworthy Amedeo Tessitori to cover this hole, or Nicolò Melli adapted (with all the consequences of the case), or even Polonara and Gallinari themselves. Again without reaching Banchero, it would be enough to be able to find two players who can then have quality minutes in the Euroleague, or at least in the EuroCup. The times of Denis Marconato and Roberto Chiacig they are not too far, but they are not very close either.

It must not be a point of arrival, but a restart-continuation, this goal achieved. There are three quarter-finals at the European Championships, the World Championships found, the Olympics found, the awareness of having a high level possible and the generations that can plan to keep it once a good part of the generation of Gallinari, Belinelli, Datome (speaking of the latter two, pointing to them almost as if they had spat on the flag just for saying no to the Pre-Olympic for clear, visible and explained physical problems seemed at least excessive), Melli will have retired from the blue or in general. The next objectives are the 2022 European Championships, the 2023 World Cup, possibly also the 2024 Olympics. By then a large part of the current generation of players will be over 30 years old, more or less. This is why the replacement is important and it will be necessary to take care of it really well, so as not to waste what good has been created on this occasion. Because the impression is that, compared to post-2004, the base is better. However, being a base, the foundations go on top of it. And above the foundation, the house. It must not be point to point against one of the favorites for the gold medal, perhaps the favorite, something that then stays there. We have three years to give continuity to all this.

Photo: LaPresse

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