Italy already had big plans for Paolo Panchero, but he became a ‘traitor’ in the eyes of the Italians – now we will see each other again in the World Cup quarter-finals.
First he wanted to play for Italy, then he didn’t: Paolo Banchero.
Panchero, the son of former NBA player Ronda Smith, was born in Seattle but also has Italian roots due to his father. So it happened that the Italian Federation reached out to Banchero’s family early on – “When I was 16, the national team contacted my father,” Banchero revealed last fall. In 2020 he finally obtained an Italian passport.
Then there was silence for a while before the drama began. In 2022, the power forward was selected by the Orlando Magic as the No. 1 pick — and his career took off. In his rookie season, he averaged 20 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 72 games while shooting 42.7 percent from the field and 29.8 percent from three.
First advance, then rejection: Italy feels betrayed
The striker also made it clear that he intends to play for Italy. “I can’t wait to go to Italy,” he said on the Young Person radio show. In Italy, this intention was perceived with great joy, and people were looking forward to the next star. But then everything turned out differently.
While Banchero confirmed his intention to play for Italy last year, he changed his mind shortly before the World Cup – and now plays for Team USA. Unsurprisingly, this was not well received in Italy, with fans clearly showing their displeasure on social media. Association officials were also “not amused.”
We were deceived. We had big plans for him.
Gianni Petrucci on Paolo Panchero
“It was a legitimate decision,” Italian Federation President Gianni Petrucci told Gazzetta dello Sport when Banchero’s decision became known – and made his disappointment clear, especially at the way it was learned. The 78-year-old complained, making serious allegations: “He could have called us, we learned about it from the newspaper.”
“Betrayal is a serious charge, especially in basketball,” Petrucci said, admitting that it does not surprise him personally because he has been through such situations before. “But he cheated us. We had big business plans for him. Now we have to do it.” Transform disappointment into positive energy.”
The Azzurri will need that positive energy on Tuesday if they want to create a buzz in the quarterfinals against USA and Banchero. The Rookie of the Year himself was tough after the 104:110 shock defeat to Lithuania. When asked if he had anything to say to the Italian fans, the 2.08m tall Banchero, who has performed well in the World Cup so far (10.2 points on average), said: “No.”
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