Italy has a storied basketball history.
While football is the country’s premier sport, the interest in basketball is deep as well.
The Italians are one of the world’s premier basketball nations and they have a solid track record, having placed second twice in the Olympic Games and took part in 13 world championships.
Likewise, the Italians won the European championships two times.
Currently, the team that is revving up for the 2023 FIBA World Cup is doing well while undergoing rigid training in Folgara in northern Italy, having just topped the Trentino Cup by whipping Asian powerhouse China, 79-61.
The Chinese paraded naturalized player Kyle Anderson (Li Kaier) of the Minnesota Timberwolves but the New York-born forward couldn’t bail his new team out despite finishing with 11 points in 19 minutes and 31 seconds of play.
Gilas Pilipinas is bracketed with Italy, the Dominican Republic and Angola and is hard-pressed to make the next round given the injuries on key players.
But since the games will be held on familiar territory, Gilas is capable of pulling off a surprise since the Dominican is said to be not fielding two National Basketball Association players in Chris Duarte and Al Horford.
But what about the Italians?
Well, as they say, the ball is round.
But even the most hardcore Gilas supporters agree that it will take a miracle for the Filipinos to survive the Italian onslaught.
Still, Italy admitted, through its communications chief Francesco D’Aniello, that the crowd could be a factor.
“We’ve played before 20,000, 25,000 people but we’ve never seen a crowd of 55,000 people,” D’Aniello told me during a visit to the Italian Basketball Federation headquarters in Rome several weeks ago.
Well, not exactly.
It will only be during the inaugurals that a huge crowd of 50,000 plus is expected to be in attendance because the opening games are going to be staged at the Philippine Arena. The succeeding games in Manila will be held at the Smart Araneta Coliseum and the Philippine Arena.
When Italy meets Gilas on 29 August, the venue will be the Smart Araneta Coliseum, which has been reconfigured to accommodate 16,500. During the Thrilla in Manila in 1975, 25,000 were packed to see Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
Anyway, Italy will be relieved to find this out.
An audience numbering 55,000 will look and sound different from 16,500.
But considering that the Filipinos are the most passionate cage fans in the world, that 16,500 can sound very much like 55,000.
It will be interesting to see how the Italians will react to the highly-partisan crowd at the Big Dome.