Paolo Banchero spent the majority of last week taking his first trip to Italy, where his father’s family is originally from.
He did all the tourist things — diving into the Mediterranean Sea along the coast — taking in Rome. OK, so it was not quite the tourist thing. He signed a deal with Oakley and got mobbed by fans when he signed at the Luxottica stores in Rome. He went to a Prada fashion show.
You know, the Italy tourist things.
The intrigue though was happening around and behind the scenes in the weeks leading up to that trip. There was long a battle for Banchero’s national allegiance between Italy and the United States. And this summer’s World Cup was seemingly a major decision point for these two nations fighting over the services over the NBA’s reigning Rookie of the Year.
Italy had reportedly grown pessimistic they would have Banchero for this summer’s World Cup. They certainly still hoped he would wait to declare his allegiance after another full-court press.
But like the double teams and presses Banchero met his rookie year, he beat it. Banchero will play in August’s FIBA World Cup . . . for Team USA.
If there is yet another sign of how much Banchero has transformed the profile of this Orlando Magic franchise and has previewed what everyone around the league has viewed him and his potential, Banchero’s arrival on Team USA is a sure sign that his future is coming.
Paolo Banchero’s arrival to Team USA is a big national spotlight moment for the Orlando Magic and their young star as they both look to grow into factors in the NBA.
The Magic have waited for their chance to arrive in the national moment, and Banchero’s presence on Team USA shows a clear belief in his and the team’s future. No offense to Franz Wagner and his budding stardom on Team Germany (a favorite to win the World Cup).
Paolo Banchero will become the first Magic player involved in the U.S. Basketball program since Jonathan Isaac was named to the 2019 Select Team, the training team of young players for the senior team’s training camp. Paolo Banchero will be the first Magic player on the senior national team since Dwight Howard in 2008.
This was a major recruiting effort from Team USA and director Grant Hill to try to secure the commitment from a fellow Duke alum in Paolo Banchero.
Banchero is coming off an incredible rookie season for sure. Paolo Banchero averaged 20.0 points per game (the first non-center to average 20.0 points per game for the Magic since Steve Francis in 2004) on his way to winning Rookie of the Year. He showed impressive playmaking chops for a player of his size, averaging 3.7 assists per game along with 6.9 rebounds per game.
It was a strong season that completely changed the Magic’s outlook for their future.
When Banchero says next season is “playoffs or bust” for the Magic next season, that is as much about putting the weight on his shoulders as anything else. He knows a lot of it will fall on him and his internal growth.
The Magic are certainly betting on internal growth to improve their team with how quiet they are expected to be with free agency coming up. But there are still big expectations. It will be hard to ignore the Magic pretty soon.
The World Cup will be an opportunity to showcase that growth and set up his upcoming sophomore season. It will also be an opportunity to be on the national stage.
Team USA is certainly lacking for traditional size so Banchero’s versatility will be valuable as they put this team together in the coming months. Their current roster with just one more open spot is below:
There certainly is no guarantee with how loaded Team USA’s roster is that Banchero will be among the star players. He is going to have to find his fit and play his role. There will be a lot of learning.
Their projected starting lineup is probably Tyrese Haliburton, Anthony Edwards, Brandon Ingram, Mikal Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. It is going to be an interesting roster with a lot of first-time players in the Team USA program. Coach Steve Kerr will have his work cut out for him.
But that is what makes Banchero so interesting. He can fit in a lot of places.
Banchero could see some minutes at center if Kerr wants to go small. But more likely, Banchero will be part of the second unit.
It will be an important moment not only for Banchero to try to expand his individual skills against the more physical defenses but also to work as a team in Kerr’s intricate offense and be a defender as a secondary player on the team (unless he has become that good in the last two months).
It will be a summer for learning for sure for him. And he will have a lot to take back to him for Orlando in training camp.
Still, there is that possibility for a big moment for Banchero. He will be on an international stage. And even one “Paolo game” in a World Cup game would start generating excitement for his upcoming season.
The Magic will have their star player in the spotlight — both star players actually with Franz Wagner suiting up for another tournament favorite in Germany — and that is a place the Magic have not been in a very long time.
The Magic could have both star players meeting in the World Cup final or deep in the tournament. And both could be getting the spotlight ahead of the season.
Team USA will open up its training camp in late July in Las Vegas before opening exhibition play Aug. 7 in Las Vegas against Puerto Rico. They will then head to Spain for a pair of exhibition games against Slovenia and Spain on Aug. 12 and 13 before going to Abu Dhabi to face Greece and Germany on Aug. 18 and 20.
The U.S. will play many of the tournament favorites before they arrive in the Philippines for the World Cup. The U.S. opens World Cup play Aug. 26 against New Zealand (tip off is at 8:40 a.m. ET).