Credit: Lance King/Getty Images
Credit Lance King/Getty Images

It has been a while since the last time, but now it looks like Italian basketball is finally back on the International map.

Nico Mannion

Nico  Mannion
Nico  Mannion
MIN: 12.52
PTS: 3.67 (42.86%)
REB: 1.67
As: 2.67
ST: 0.67
BL: 0
TO: 0.33
GM: 3

The Italian NT had a great summer, winning the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade and then reaching the quarter-finals in Tokyo, AX Armani Exchange Milan reached the EuroLeague Final Four last season and is currently at the top of the EuroLeague table, and the NBA scouts have been present with a certain regularity in Italian arenas in the last few weeks. 

Since 2018, with Salvatore Trainotti as general director of all the national teams and GM of the senior national teams, the Italian federation started to think about the future.

Trainotti, who’ll leave his historical role as GM of the Italian side Aquila Basket Trento at the end of the current season to focus on his national team duties, has become a key figure inside the federation and has projected the Italian NT into the future.

Together with Riccardo Fois, a former assistant coach for the Phoenix Suns and now an assistant coach at Arizona, who also serves as an assistant coach for Meo Sacchetti in the Italian NT, they have transformed the structure of the Italian NT, making it more as a club, with the approval of the higher hierarchy of the federation. 

Trainotti and Fois started to give much more attention to the USA and those players who could obtain an Italian passport due to their family roots. The first step was taken with Nico Mannion, the son of former NBA player Pace Mannion.

Niccolò was born in Italy and his mother, Gaia, is a former Italian volleyball player. Despite growing up in the USA and being involved with some of the USA youth NT sides, Mannion decided to represent Italy and make his debut with the senior national before he was 18.

Nico Mannion

Nico  Mannion
Team: Virtus Bologna
Position: SG
Age: 20
Height: 188 cm
Weight: 86 kg
Birth place: Italy

This was a key step because he made Mannion fully Italian in the eyes of FIBA and not just a ‘naturalized’ player.

The former Golden State Warriors guard has quickly become an important element for the NT, and he had a great summer, leading Italy to the Olympics. He also decided to leave the NBA and to join Virtus Bologna, one of the most ambitious projects in Europe. 

Back in 2019, Fois said in an interview with Italian newspaper Tuttosport: “We have four guys that we consider as our base for the future: Davide Moretti, Niccolo Mannion, Donte DiVincenzo, and Paolo Banchero.” 

Davide Moretti, the son of former basketball player and current head coach Paolo Moretti, joined Texas Tech in 2017 after spending a couple of important seasons with De Longhi Treviso in the Italian second division.

The point guard spent three years in NCAA and even reached the NCAA tournament final in the 2018-2019 season, his second year in college. In his third and final season at Texas Tech, he averaged 13 points and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 38% from three-point. In 2020 he joined Olimpia Milan after signing a multi-year deal with the EuroLeague side.

His adjustment to that level, though, has been difficult. In his first season with Milan, he saw very limited action and never looked completely comfortable.

This summer, he was loaned out to Pesaro to play more minutes and gain confidence, but so far, his performances haven’t been particularly impressive. At 23, Moretti doesn’t look like an immediate contributor for the national team, but there’s still time to see the best of his potential. 

A different argument has to be made about Donte DiVincenzo. The Villanova alumn was born in Delaware, and even if he’s only 24-years-old, he already has an impressive resume.

Two-time NCAA champion with Villanova, DiVincenzo was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 17th pick overall in the 2018 NBA Draft.

He quickly became an essential piece for coach Budenholzer’s system, providing defense and three-point shooting at the service of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khis Middleton. Although injured, last summer, he won his first NBA title with the Bucks.

DiVincenzo expressed interest in representing the Italian NT, and since that first contact, the federation has been communicating with him regularly. Covid slowed down the procedure for the passport, but Italy remains interested in having him as part of their future.

If DiVincenzo should receive his Italian passport by the end of the season, he might be one of the candidates for a spot at Eurobasket 2022, which will be played in September next year. 

The real game-changer, though, could be Paolo Banchero. The 19-year-old sensation from Seattle has probably been the most significant coup made by Salvatore Trainotti and the people of the Italian federation. Although, Covid forced Italy to modify its plans around the kid.

Banchero was supposed to make his debut with the senior NT in November 2020, during one of the FIBA windows. However, one of Banchero’s relatives showed some Covid-like symptoms at that time, and the player couldn’t fly to Italy to answer the call of the national team.

Banchero is expected to become one of the first three picks in the 2022 NBA Draft, and he’s already showing all of his potential in the first games with Duke.

Considering his talent and young age, he might become one of the biggest hopes that Italian basketball has ever had in recent history.

He received his Italian passport in June of 2020, but, as of right now, FIBA considers him as a ‘naturalized’ player, which means, for example, that Italy won’t be able to use him and DiVincenzo at the same time. FIBA rules allow only one naturalized player for every national team during a competition.

His presence at Duke and the hype that he’s generating might attract pressure from USA basketball to bring him back to the stars and stripes basketball at the international level.

The Italian federation, however, continues to stay in touch with the player and his family. Salvatore Trainotti and head coach Meo Sacchetti are expected to travel to the USA at the beginning of 2022, a spokesperson for the Italian federation told, and a visit to Banchero will be one of the key parts of the trip.

Although it remains unlikely to see Banchero with the Italian NT at Eurobasket 2022, due to the draft process, the hope remains to have him for the World Cup in 2023 and, most importantly, for the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024, if the Italian NT will be able to qualify. 

But the future of Italian basketball goes beyond the four names mentioned before. A new wave of players are working to replace the old generation, and they’re already drawing the attention of the NBA on themselves.

In the past few weeks, several NBA scouts have been present in multiple games of the Italian Serie A to watch some of the best prospects in the country. 

Matteo Spagnolo, a talented combo guard from Brindisi, is playing on loan with Cremona this season after signing a contract extension with Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid.

The 2003-born guard is one of the most important prospects of Italian basketball and so far is averaging 10.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game while shooting an impressive 55% from three-point.

His draft stocks are rising, and he might end up being selected in the final part of the second round of the 2022 NBA Draft, an NBA scout told 

Another Italian player that might hear his name called in next year’s NBA draft is Gabriele Procida. After a promising stint with Cantù, Procida signed with Fortitudo Bologna during the summer.

The beginning of the season has been troubling for the Italian club, which has already changed coach, but the interest around Procida remains high.

In a recent away game against Brescia, scouts from San Antonio Spurs, Charlotte Hornets, Philadelphia 76ers, and Milwaukee Bucks were all present to watch the 19-year-old wing, multiple sources confirmed to In one of the latest versions of The Athletic’s mock draft, Procida was listed as the no.46 pick. 

Abramo Canka, a 2002-born swingman, is another guy who’s drawing attention on himself. Son of a Senegalese father and an Albanian mother, Canka made his debut in the Italian second division when he was only 16-years old with Roseto Sharks.

His performances in Roseto draw some serious interest around Europe, and in 2020, Canka signed a long-term deal with Lokomotiv Kuban.

This season he’s playing on loan in Lithuania with Nevezis, averaging 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game. He’s another of those players that have a shot at being selected in the last part of the second round in next year’s draft. 

NBA scouts have also been present to watch other Italian prospects, including Senegalese-born wing Mouhamet Diouf, under contract with Reggio Emilia, Giordano Bortolani, who’s playing with Treviso on loan this season, but he’s under contract with Olimpia Milan, and Virtus Bologna rising star Alessandro Pajola, who has already been a steady contributor also for the National team.

With Nicolo Melli moving back to Milan, Italy currently has only one player in the NBA, Danilo Gallinari, who’s 33-years-old, and would welcome any fellow Italian with open arms.

The federation is putting a lot of work into having a very competitive team for Paris 2024, but the aim is to become one of the strongest teams in the world when Los Angeles 2028 will come.

The first positive signals are arriving, and the basis for a great future looks already in place. 

“I always said that the goal was Paris 2024 and then winning a medal in Los Angeles”, Riccardo Fois said in a recent interview with BasketUniverso. “In Tokyo, we already did a great job. I believe that with the new generation, who is already doing a very good job, we can build the basis for a national team that can compete for medals in the next 10-20 years, as already happened to teams like Spain and France”, he explained. 

In the meantime, even Gianni Petrucci, the president of the Italian basketball federation, is changing some of his positions.

In a recent interview with Il Corriere Dello Sport, Petrucci revealed that the federation is thinking about the possibility of lowering the limit of Italian players currently in place for the Serie A.

As of right now, every team has to register at least 5 Italian players. Team executives and other professionals have often criticized this kind of rule because it’s considered way too protective for the local players and doesn’t give them a real incentive to actually improve their game. 

If even Petrucci, who has always been a determined defender of these kinds of measures, is changing his mind and now looks more willing to give the green light to some reforms, it means that the wind in Italian basketball is really shifting. 

Dreaming about Paris 2024 and the NBA doesn’t look so rash after all. All hail to the new wave. 

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