Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

When in August Virtus Bologna announced the signing of Nico Mannion, they knew they made a big splash and a lot of attention and scrutiny was coming. They didn't expect, though, that the scrutiny would be centered around Mannion's health.

Free throws this season

76%
16,7
Points made: 16,7
Accuracy: 76,0%
Place in standings: 2
Record max: 32
Record min: 7
Most made FTs: Marco Belinelli

Right after his arrival in Bologna, Mannion was diagnosed with a severe intestinal infection and was forced to miss the training camp. Since then, there has been a lot of drama. The initial expectations were for Mannion to miss a couple of weeks of action at most, but the situation deteriorated quickly.

Reports out of Italy speculated that Mannion could be in line for two months of treatments before returning to full health. In pictures taken at the airport upon Mannion's arrival, it was evident that the player looked 'skinny'. Sometime later, the condition was visibly concerning when Mannion was spotted behind Virtus bench watching his team's pre-season game.

Sure, Mannion was at a game with fans in the stands, so the fact that someone took a picture of him wasn't exactly surprising. But that photo was also completely taken out of context, making look the situation a lot worse than it actually was. On the forums and websites, a lot of different theories started to circulate, some of them were absolutely crazy and disrespectful to the player, who was already dealing with a difficult moment. Also, Virtus didn't like how the picture was used by several media outlets, and in separate interviews, CEO Luca Baraldi expressed his frustration in this regard.

But let's take a step back and try to understand what really happened. According to several sources with knowledge of the situation, Mannion started to have some issues while still in Tokyo with the Italian national team. He probably got the intestinal infection in Japan but how he got it, is still unknown.

Nico Mannion

Nico  Mannion
Team: Golden State Warriors
Italy
Position: SG
Age: 20
Height: 188 cm
Weight: 86 kg
Birth place: Italy

Right after the Olympic Games, Mannion returned to the USA and ignored the issue for a few days. When he arrived in Bologna and underwent his physicals with the team, Virtus realized that the infection was pretty severe and the player had already lost several kilograms. Mannion lost around 9-10 kilograms, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, but that wasn't the only issue.

The former Golden State Warriors guard was also losing a muscle mass. That's why Virtus decided to keep him away from the training camp and started to create a personalized program to help him recover. For a player like Mannion, who wasn't exactly a heavyweight before encountering such a problem, this represented a big step back in his acclimatization process. The Italian team, though, believed that the recovery time for Mannion would be shorter than the one anticipated by several Italian newspapers.

CEO Luca Baraldi believed that Mannion could be available by mid-October and stated several times that the player was completely healthy and on his way to rediscovering his best physical condition. Two different sources close to the situation confirmed to BasketNews that Mannion was indeed fully recovered from the intestinal infection and was working at full strength to be ready as soon as possible. 

Mannion's recovery will be the key for Virtus Bologna. The Italian team has envisioned a big role for the young point guard and they were very aggressive in his recruitment this summer. Virtus first contacted Mannion when he was still in Tokyo. But, at first, the player wasn't interested in leaving the NBA. After the first season under a two-way contract with the Warriors and a solid summer play with Italy, Mannion felt like he had earned the chance to sign a standard NBA contract, so the idea of playing in Europe wasn't at the top of his list.

But when the NBA free agency started, the situation changed drastically. The Warriors wanted to keep Mannion around but only with another two-way contract. Meaning he would be forced to spend some time in the G League. Mannion and his entourage believed that another season, under those circumstances, wouldn't have helped his development so they got back in touch with Virtus Bologna, who were still very interested in young point guard's services.

An agreement between the two sides was quickly found and Mannion embraced the opportunity of playing for a very ambitious team. For Bologna it was a double win: not only they signed a very promising and talented player but they also reinforced the roster without spending another visa for a foreign player, which they could use for another player. That extra visa, though, came in need sooner than expected with Mannion's health issues.

Virtus decided to go after another combo guard who could help in filling the void left by Mannion's unavailability. Rumors were swirling regarding Virtus' interest in such players like Frank Ntilikina and Yogi Ferrell, but the Italian champions quickly turned their attention to Ty'Shon Alexander and signed him to a two-year deal (with an NBA out option for next summer).

Alexander, a Creighton University alumn, spent his rookie season with the Phoenix Suns on a two-way contract but found very limited minutes, playing most of his season in the G League. Alexander displayed enough potential as a secondary playmaker and a capable defensive player who's able to put a lot of pressure on the ball. Another young and energetic guy in a backcourt that, aside from Milos Teodosic, will be one of the youngest in Europe with Mannion and Pajola, two of the main talents of the next generation Italian basketball. 

Having so much youth has always been the plan for Virtus. The team was looking for ways to unload some offensive responsibilities off Milos Teodosic's shoulders and letting him do what he does best: creating for himself and his teammates without worrying too much about defense. Being able to manage Teodosic's minutes over the season was another focus for the team, who would love to have the Serbian magician at his best when it matters the most, the Serie A playoffs and EuroCup's second phase.

In order to achieve all this, having Mannion back is paramount and that's why the team was not trying to rush things, letting their young guard recover and shielding him from further media intrusions. Mannion also has a very tight family circle. Especially his mother, Gaia Bianchi, a former volleyball player, is very protective of her son and most of the media requests must run through her, a source told BasketNews.

Despite his lack of size, Mannion is a very determined young man. He chose not to sign another two-way contract because he believed he was worth more than that. Mannion decided to play in Italy and to create his own path back to the NBA because he firmly believed in his abilities as an NBA player. The current bump on the road wasn't going to stop him. "He'll bounce back from this situation, no doubt," an NBA scout told BasketNews. "I've been following him since high school and he has always been relentless in his determination. He's gonna be just fine."

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