LAS VEGAS — Paolo Banchero saw the picture every day at his family home. It was a team photo of a USA Basketball squad from the 1990s, one that included his mother.
Red, white and blue seeds were planted.
“That USA team photo was hung up in the basement, and my room was in the basement,” Banchero said. “I saw that every single day. That was literally one of my biggest dreams as a kid, to play for USA.”
And in the end, that picture was the biggest factor in why he’ll be playing for USA Basketball this summer and likely beyond. The reigning NBA rookie of the year from the Orlando Magic is one of 12 players picked to play for the U.S. in this summer’s Basketball World Cup. The Americans start camp in Las Vegas in early August and the tournament in the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan starts on Aug. 25.
“I think the beauty of a player like Paolo — and I watched him even before his freshman year at Duke — is his game, his versatility, his size, his feel,” said USA Basketball managing director Grant Hill, who, like Banchero, also played at Duke for former U.S. national team coach Mike Krzyzewski. “I think he has a chance to be a part of USA Basketball, hopefully, for many more opportunities in the future.”
For 11 of the 12 players on the team, the selection process was simple: They accepted an invitation from Hill and the rest of the USA Basketball braintrust.
Banchero’s decision-making process was different. He had another option; he holds an Italian passport along with a U.S. one because of his father’s Italian heritage.
Banchero had a strong relationship in high school with Riccardo Fois, now an Arizona assistant who at the time was coaching at Gonzaga, not far from Banchero’s home. Fois is Italian, played for the national team and helped open Banchero’s eyes to the possibility of playing for Italy. That led to the Italians offering Banchero a spot on their senior national team even before college, and Banchero nearly accepted — but plans got thwarted because of the pandemic.
Also at play at that time: Banchero tried to make some USA Basketball teams when he was younger, and never got picked. That left him frustrated, and led to him exploring the opportunity to play for Italy.
“I was 17 when they asked and that was a time in my life where I felt like I couldn’t pass up on that opportunity because my dad’s side of the family is Italian,” Banchero said in Las Vegas this week, after posing with the Naismith Trophy — which will be presented to the World Cup champions. “And I didn’t know much about my Italian heritage. So, I felt like that was the perfect way to get to know more and become closer with my Italian heritage, which I have since then.
“But COVID kind of took that opportunity for me to play away, and that makes me think all the time about how different my life would have been if COVID never happened,” he added. “But I wasn’t able to play, went to Duke, had a great year, went No. 1 in the draft and, you know, circumstances change.”
Flopping, challenge rules change
LAS VEGAS — Upon review, coaches will have more chances to ask for reviews.
The NBA’s Board of Governors approved two rule changes for the coming season Tuesday — one to give coaches a second challenge if their first one is successful, the other being a technical foul for flopping.
The challenge rule change is something that coaches have wanted for some time. Coaches who challenge a call and are successful will get the chance to make a second challenge — with one catch. Teams must have a timeout in order to call for a challenge; that timeout would not be retained even if a coach won that first challenge.
Players who flop — or are called for committing “a physical act that reasonably appears to be intended to cause the officials to call a foul on another player,” the league said — will be given a non-unsportsmanlike technical, which will not count as a personal foul or lead to ejection. But it will give the opposing team a free throw and could lead to a possession change, depending on when it is called.
Officials can choose to stop live play to call a flopping violation, or can wait until the next “neutral opportunity” to do so.
Floppers will be fined $2,000, with fines rising incrementally for repeat offenders. The flopping rule will be on a one-year experiment.
MORANT: Authorities say an arrest warrant has been issued for a close friend of Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant stemming from a fight during a pickup basketball game at the player’s home last year. The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office says Davonta Pack has been charged with simple assault stemming from the July 2022 altercation that led to a lawsuit filed against both men by a teenager who has accused them of punching him.
GORDON: Former NBA player Ben Gordon has pleaded not guilty to weapons and threatening charges Tuesday after being forced to the ground by police at a Connecticut juice shop who were responding to reports of his erratic behavior. He appeared in court Tuesday in Stamford.