After a stellar rookie campaign which ended with a near unanimous Rookie of the Year award win and 20 points put up each night, Paolo Banchero has earned some much-needed rest.
Yet as the Orlando Magic stare into a pivotal offseason where they will round out their roster for what they hope will be a postseason push next year, Banchero still has questions to answer about what he does next with his playing career.
Despite growing up in the United States and playing his college ball at Duke, Banchero has an Italian passport, meaning he is eligible to play for their national team in international tournaments. And there have been rumors and constant questions — from Italian reporters traveling the NBA circuit — wondering if Banchero would suit up for Italy at this summer’s FIBA World Cup.
Those rumors are starting to get put to rest as Italian basketball director Gianni Petrucci told Cosimo Cito he is now pessimistic that Banchero will suit up for them this summer, although they are hopeful he will join the team for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Paolo Banchero’s international future is still up in the air. He may be choosing to sit out this summer, but there may still be a battle for his FIBA loyalty coming.
The 2023 FIBA World Cup will get underway this August, with Italy in a group alongside Angola, the Philippines and the Dominican Republic. Three opponents they should not be afraid of and who Banchero could hang 40 on each game.
As recently as December of last year, Banchero had apparently met with Italian head coach Gianmarco Pozzeco, as well as a number of officials from the Italian Basketball Federation.
Before that, Banchero had appeared on former Magic teammate R.J. Hampton’s podcast and had expressed a desire to not only visit Italy but suit up for them in international competition when the time came.
That interest appears to have cooled, with Banchero still having not committed to Italy with a major tournament mere months away. But he should still give it some serious thought, for a variety of reasons.
Banchero never played for Team USA at any age group, so he does not have an affinity or true understanding of what it means to play for the United States in international play.
So it is a case of Banchero not knowing what he is missing out on, even if we can all accept that he will always have a much better chance of winning silverware should he play for the United States.
But playing for Italy would represent not only Banchero connecting with his roots through his father’s side of the family, but it would also be an opportunity to have an international program built around him.
Right now Danilo Gallinari is Italy’s most well-known player. But at 34 years old and having suffered a torn ACL not so long ago, the future of the nation is most certainly in flux.
Banchero could step into that void, and automatically be the country’s best player. One that would build its entire offensive game around him, as well as any marketing campaign you can think of as well.
This would also be ideal for the Orlando Magic, at least initially, as it would give Banchero the chance to see what it is like to be the main man somewhere. The best player on the team each and every night.
International basketball is also different to the NBA in a variety of ways, and so learning the game in a different way from European-based coaches and players would also be beneficial for Banchero’s future. Not to mention FIBA games tend to be more physical and cerebral.
We all saw how Franz Wagner benefited from being featured in these games last summer at EuroBasket (and both Franz and Moe Wagner are slated to suit up for Germany again this summer).
Playing for Team USA would bring its own set of challenges, most notably that Banchero would always be far from a sure thing to play, especially when the Olympics roll around and the constant churn of American talent. It is tough to maintain a spot on Team USA for multiple tournament cycles.
But wanting to test himself against the best every day in training and in trying to make any team he goes for is both commendable and also the path to take if Banchero wants to back himself in becoming one of the top 10 players in the NBA one day.
He absolutely has the ceiling to do this, and going for that goal brings with it a different type of pressure than being the only star who lines out for Italy and loses plenty of games in international play.
But there are other superstars out there, Luka Doncic of Slovenia being one such example, who play for their country because they are proud to do so, and without any guarantee of success. Does Banchero love Italy enough to want to walk that path?
We must also factor in the travel involved during summer competitions, as well as splitting his time between Florida, Seattle and wherever it is the Italian national team base themselves ahead of competitions.
There is enough reason here to seriously consider this.
Banchero can grow his personal brand in Europe and beyond, and be the focal point of a European team who plays in major competitions. His spot on the roster would also be secured from now until the day he retired too.
He could pick and choose which events to participate in, and unlike Team USA where his spot would always be under threat and expectations will forever be high, Banchero could actually go over there and have some fun while repping Italy.
The other side of the coin however, is that if Banchero really wants to be one of the greats, then he will believe he can lead Team USA to Olympic gold, and be part of a sporting institution that churns out winning at a high level.
That is the path that a Rookie of the Year who is going to one day average 30 points per game should be taking, but whatever his decision, Banchero is going to do it his way, and he will be successful doing it.