ROME, Italy — The sheer thought of playing before a mammoth crowd against Gilas Pilipinas gives the Italian national team a reason not to take the host squad for granted when Manila hosts the FIBA Basketball World Cup this August.
“We’ve played before packed crowds of 15,000 people,” Francesco D’Aniello said during a visit by Daily Tribune at the Federazione Italiana Pallacanestro headquarters on Wednesday.
“But we’ve never seen (basketball) crowds of 55,000.”
D’Aniello serves as the Italian national squad’s chief of communication, a job he has been holding for the last eight years.
In fact, he has personally seen how important basketball is to Filipinos.
“We played your team a few times and one time (during a pocket tournament) in Bologna (in 2016), there were more Filipino fans in the arena than there were Italians,” D’Aniello recalled.
‘The team we played before is not the same one we will face in Manila.’
Italy takes on the Philippines on 29 August at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. The two other groupmates of the Italians and the Filipinos are the Dominican Republic and Angola.
While Italy is ranked No. 10 in the world, the two-time Olympic silver medalist insists it will be utterly foolish to think the Filipinos would pass out the moment some of its National Basketball Association players emerge at the dugout of Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“The team we played before is not the same one we will face in Manila,” D’Aniello said, stressing that Utah Jazz scorer Jordan Clarkson’s presence is a major concern in the 2023 edition.
Italy mauled the Philippines, 108-62 during the 2019 worlds in China and this won’t certainly be the case when you play a home team (like the Philippines), D’Aniello said.
Like the Philippines, D’Aniello said that Italy is also struggling a bit because of injuries and the availability of top players.
Italian-American big man Paolo Banchero, the NBA’s top rookie, remains a big question mark.
“We, as Federation, are in touch with him and his family since 2018. Now, he is an international star and we don’t know about his future decisions.”
The same is true with Danilo Gallinari and Luigi Datome.
Gallinari signed up with the Boston Celtics last year but was unable to suit up because of an anterior cruciate ligament tear.
“They are two of our best players. We (will) wait for our coach’s decision about 2023 roster,” D’Aniello said, referring to the daunting task head coach Gianmarco Pozzecco is about to embark on from 24 July to 2 August during a training camp in the Italian Alps.
The initial composition could not be assembled early since the Italian championships are still ongoing with Virtus Bologna and Olimpia Milano headed for a Game 7.
Both squads have several members playing for the national team like Marco Belinelli, Daniel Hackett, Nico Mannion and Nicolo Melli.
Still, the Italian team touching down in the Philippines in a couple of months would still be formidable, one that will ooze with topnotch talent given their thick NBA pedigree.
“It will be a young and talented team, a mix of youth and experience, one that will bring in a lot of enthusiasm and excitement and a team that will make a step forward,” D’Aniello said.