With the Azzurri having exited EuroBasket 2017 at the quarter final stage, Nicolò Origgi takes a look at the deeper issues that are limiting Italy’s progress and examines the benefits some nations with less fat to wade through have over the fallen powerhouse
For the third time in a row, Italy has suffered a quarterfinal ousting at Eurobasket. In the middle, in spite of the general optimism around what was believed to be the best Azzurri side ever and the potential advantage of hosting the short qualifying tournament, a dramatic failure to secure a spot at the 2016 Rio Olympics took place as well. Of course, one might argue that this year, as well as in 2013, such a top-eight finish should be more than welcomed given the absences of go-to-players such as Andrea Bargnani – whose future at the highest levels is a big question mark after failing to stay healthy also throughout his European comeback season – and Danilo Gallinari.
Although this could be a reason for seeing the glass half full, these same positive results should not conceal a great plague upon the whole Italian basketball. Team spirit and cohesion can do wonders but not miracles, thus the extreme shortage of legit talent to really challenge for a European Championship – and all those competitions lately seen from the outside due to the lack of success in the latter – gets regularly unveiled at some point. It is incredible – and unacceptable – how, whenever few of the country’s finest miss the chance to suit up for their national team for different reasons, only a small part of the roster – this time, only 2014 NBA champion Marco Belinelli alongside current Euroleague holder Luigi Datome as well as fellow continental top-tier starters Nicolò Melli and Daniel Hackett – belongs to the highest international stages. In theory, also the domestic core of Olimpia Milan’s bench – almost unused substitutes Awudu Abass and Andrea Cinciarini, rim protector Marco Cusin as well as the unlucky Davide Pascolo ruled out by a last-minute injury – should be included in this restricted group, but do not forget that all of them – with the exception of newly acquired Cusin, who played FIBA Champions Cup with Scandone Avellino – actually started seeing playing time in the Euroleague only halfway through the past season, when everything was already said and done for the Armani-owned club. Then, there are also those – namely, future Virtus Bologna teammates Pietro Aradori and a rightfully snubbed Alessandro Gentile – who, in spite of having all the tools necessary to succeed, have not made the last step and are thus looking forward to putting up big numbers within national borders or, in the best case scenario, around the courts of second- and third-tier continental cups. After that, all any coach could do to round up the twelve-man-squad is select average Lega A performers in hopes of fostering a strong chemistry to bridge the gap with foreign powerhouses.
For our analysis series The Ballin After, post-game interviews, and more, subscribe to BallinEurope’s YouTube channel
Apart from the chronic issue documented above, Italy’s most recent eliminations have had another quite meaningful trait d’union. These days, as well as in the most important seventh-place final game ever – a berth to the 2014 World Cup was at stake – four years ago, the executioner has borne the name of Serbia – comfortable winner also in the 2011 and 2015 round-robin phase. In 2013, just like a couple years later, Lithuania had instead proved to be too much in the quarterfinals. The past summer, finally, it was Croatia breaking thousands of hearts in Turin and thus booking a flight to Brazil. Serbia, Croatia and Lithuania, three basketball-mad countries by definition but a grand total of about fifteen million people – roughly, eight, four and three apiece – or, to put things in perspective, one fourth of the Italian population. Even more impressive – and, from Italy’s point of view, embarrassing – is the abundance of premiere talents with serious Euroleague or NBA experience within each of these sides, whose coaches often have to make tough decisions in the selection process or can sleep peacefully even in case of multiple withdrawals – just think about Serbia making such a deep run basically with a B-side. To all the Italian sports authorities, the demanding task of finding an answer to such inversely proportional status quo.
BallinEurope now has merch, like actual merch, t-shirts, phone covers, and even pillows. Check it all out on our RedBubble page.
Italy’s worst nightmares, however, are not alone in the pool of small nations who make big noise. As a matter of fact, the most exciting quarterfinal showdown has seen Latvia taking on eventual winner Slovenia in a high-scoring affair that enhanced the already bright reputation of some already impressive rising stars. Coincidence or not, all these countries share a common past as members either of the former Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union, the biggest basketball steamrollers in the world outside of the U.S. until their dissolution. Keeping this in mind and without getting into politics at all given the seriousness of the issues that have led to such an often bloody process, the thought of a current Yugoslavian selection facing a Soviet one – and, of course, Team USA – is just scary. On one side, what about Milos Teodosic, Goran Dragic, Bogdan & Bojan Bogdanovic, Luka Doncic, Nikola Kalinic, Dario Saric, Nemanja Bjelica, Mirza Teletovic, Nikola Vucevic, Boban Marjanovic and Nikoja Jokic? Aleksey Shved, Mantas Kalnietis, Vitaly Fridzon, Dairis & Davis Bertans, Jonas Maciulis, Kristaps Porzingis, Tornike Shengelia, Andrey Vorontsevich, Jonas Valanciunas, Timofey Mozgov and Zaza Pachulia would definitely give them a run for their money. Crazy enough, the traditional twelve roster spots could not accommodate the likes of Donatas Motiejunas, Bojan Dubljevic, Miroslav Raduljica, Giorgi Shermadini, Nikita Kurbanov, Janis Timma, Mario Hezonja, Krunoslav Simon, Adas Juskevicius, Janis Strelnieks and a number of other players with a certain pedigree – as well as skills – that would crack a vital spot in Italy’s rotations at the very least. Excluding Russia, the total population of the various former federal republics – the aforementioned Serbia, Lithuania, Croatia, Slovenia and Latvia plus Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Georgia – from which at least one player has been named would not even reach half of the Italian one. After all, a common idom might have the best explanation for such a paradox – good things come in small packages, and this is no exception.
To keep up to date with everything on BiE, like BallinEurope on Facebook