Though this ranking will probably be jumbled in eight months, let’s take a look at the teams in the Italian league. A preliminary remark: this season will see one of the most balanced championships of the past five years, with almost every team improving its situation and not merely to beat the invincible Montepaschi. Serie A is still alive and is breathing new air.
Montepaschi Siena. To be a two-time Serie A champion is not enough to remain among the Euroleague elite. Therefore, attempting to improve on a 60-12 team in 2007/08, Domercant and Finley are in, while Thornton and Ilievski are out. Domercant is the scorer Montepaschi needs to develop its perimeter game; Finley looks like the new McIntyre, a quick offensive playmaker who knows how arm his teammates to the tune of 3.3 assists per game for Rieti last season). Bringing back the Euroleague title after seven years is the target, well focused upon by a group close to the last significant opportunity of their careers. If there is any shortcoming at all in the Siena game, it’s that the team is no so heavy in the paint.
Lottomatica Roma. Any desire is an order. So, Jasmin Repesa asks, Bodiroga and owner Toti deliver, equipping the coach with something like a Dream Team. Going into his third year as head coach, however, it’s time for the Croatian to win a title. The best way would be to beat Siena, in a rivalry born and intensified during the last four editions of the playoffs. To do so, Roma introduced to Italian fans one of the preseason’s most exciting stories, namely Brandon Jennings. Roma’s destiny is carried on the shoulders of the Oak Hill Academy point guard and his maturity in leading a team very rich of talent (Becirovic, Ray, Jaaber), but endowed with little desire to defend. Consequently, Brezec – and his impact in the paint – is the key.
Upim Bologna. Striking for its offensive power, Fortitudo Bologna starts the season as a possible surprise in the Serie A race. Huertas, Forte, Woods, Mancinelli, and Barron sounds good, don’t you think? Considering this starting five to be the best in the league is no joke. An excellent bench (combo guard Gordon, Malaventura, Slokar) completes the roster driven by Dragan Sakota, whose most serious task might be getting on with his players. After disappointing and boring seasons, though, Bologna can dream again; this is what “Basket City” needs.
Virtus Bologna. Hatred of Fortitudo is so nasty that the ephemeral title “King of the Summer Market” is something to be proud of. The showy agreement reached with former NBA star Earl Boykins is the best move owner Sabatini could have made in confirming command in Bologna and attacking Serie A at the highest levels, whereas Virtus wants to come back. The roster goes beyond just Boykins, because in acquiring Vukcevic, Arnold, Langford and Koponen, the average quality has increased. Sharrod Ford, if he can repeat last season’s numbers, could truly become the best center in Italy. Curiosity and concern here is about coach Pasquali, in his first experience heading a team this skilled.
Air Avellino. Things are getting better in Avellino, and a terrific 2007/08 might represent the entrance into a richer and more successful era. This year, the amazing Euroleague to play and key moves made during summer, mean that last season was no anomaly, despite coach Boniciolli’s resignation. The signing of Dickau – probably one of the most adaptable point guards coming to Europe from the NBA indicates the presence of a solid plan, strengthened by the construction of a new and larger arena. Apart from Dickau, Avellino has landed Warren, swingman Slay, the imaginative Porta, and role players like Tusek, Cinciarini and Crosariol. Zare Markovski must again find the right chemistry after the awful losses of Green and Smith, but you can’t teach talent and Avellino has gobs of it.
Armani Jeans Milano. A new property referred to Mr. Giorgio Armani is a great guarantee. From the transfer of ownership, Milano began its season, renovating the roster, ambitions and technical staff. New GM Lucio Zanca (Montegranaro miracle’s author) has been called to design a team which could excite fans: The first step to achieve that aim was shipping out Caja and his reasoned game. Bucchi was the right addition, along with names such as Sow, Hawkins and two-meter tall guard Vitali. Some say Armani Jeans hasn’t the stars that can bring it a title – excepting Hawkins, this is true – but this team’s toughness and depth are virtues everyone must keep in mind. Further, Milano has a huge number of Italian players: They may not be champions (Rocca), may be in terrible decline (Bulleri), or may be desirous of redemption (Mordente), but they all speak the same language.
Benetton Treviso. Too much time has passed since Ettore Messina led Treviso to the Italian title. Today, Messina is the best European coach and is in Moscow, while the Benetton family no longer feels much like investing a lot of money, especially after years that have also stained the club’s reputation. (Remember the Lorbek affair?) Mahmuti, still aboard despite the disaster of last season, would like to have better players, choosing them spot-by-spot, but that’s the situation: the coach must be satisfied with Wood, Neal, and Wallace. It’s conceivable that Mahmuti would use a platoon system in trying to squeeze all he can out of players which don’t look like champions but have the pieces to get Treviso back in the playoff hunt.
Tercas Teramo. Now the fun begins. This is going to be a great season for Teramo, which will fight to get to playoffs, its 2008/2009 goal. Technical improvement is evident, and surely this team is a top 10 Italian club. Poeta, waiting for a better and more consistent leadership, is the key player in a skilled group, for whom awfully streaky-shooter Jaycee Carroll and all-around player David Moss should make the leap. Former Montegranaro star Amoroso has to ignore the negative voices around him, saying he’s mentally lacking to play at the highest level (and that this is the reason Siena didn’t employ him), while coach Capobianco must forget his previous experience in Serie A (Avellino’s relegation to Legadue in 2005/06). But with Teramo looking good and a solid bench featuring Hoover and Jaacks, the fans will enjoy themselves at least.
Scavolini-Spar Pesaro. What lesson can be learned from last season? Above all, talent without mentality is not enough to create a team. In order to avoid making the same mistakes, this Pesaro edition presents fewer “crazy horses” like Ron Slay and Keydren Clark, and more professional players like Hurd, Akindele and Stanic. This sudden U-turn occurred because results, barring a semifinal in the National Cup, didn’t arrive. Reactions of the fans to this new situation and its lowered expectations aren’t so positive, and it’s up to coach Sacripanti give them the lie. Sacripanti needs Ramel Curry healthy and Van Rossom, on loan from Milano, able to fulfil his promise. For Van Rossom, Pesaro is the test to determine if he can be a top player outside of Oostende.
Cantù. Cantù is always one of the most interesting Italian teams, because of its ability in discovering young players from minor leagues, working within a budget which can’t compete with the league’s bigger teams; McCullough, Thornton, Stonerook, and Morandais should teach us something. The tune in Cantù hasn’t changed, and limited resources have brought GM Arrigoni to the American summer leagues. Imported from the US were Sundiata Gaines and Jason Rich, a fast and promising backcourt duo that will prime scorers like B.J. Elder and Mazzarino. Many hopes depend on Tourè’s efficiency, and his capacity to raise the decision-making. It’s difficult to imagine Cantù in the playoffs again, but dreams cost nothing.
Angelico Biella. Missing playoffs is not a disaster; nevertheless, Biella had got into the habit of postseason play. This year the hunt begins anew, thanks to management sensationally signing great young prospects coming from the NCAA: Aboard are Gist and Plaisted, two big men intended for top European teams. After them, additions include the homecomings of Joe Troy Smith and Reece Gaines (problematic in Milano and Treviso), and other youngsters ready to fire (Jerebko). Biella’s recipe to obtain results never changes.
Eldo Caserta. Exciting: Running over Caserta’s roster, this is the word that immediately comes to mind. Coming back from Legadue after 14 years of purgatory – this was coach Marcelletti and GM Betti’s intention. They wished to raise a team that needs great offensive players to survive, drawn along the lines of Oscar Schmidt and Vincenzo Esposito; the natural consequences of this act were the acquisitions of Butler, Foster, Slay and Di Bella, although everyone knows about Eldo Caserta’s defensive weaknesses. Nevertheless, their upside is huge. Eldo’s budget is important for a Legadue newcomer, but it seems that the choices made could pay large dividends, too. See them in the playoffs?
Premiata Montegranaro. The miracles are over. Vitali, Amoroso and Ford are gone. Reality is depressing, because a Eurocup justly reached has been lost on behalf of Treviso, and in Montegranaro what remains to replace last season’s heroes are only workers (Rice, Chiaramello) and immature talents (Bryce Taylor, Cinciarini). Surprisingly, hope is represented by six-time NBA All-Star Shawn Kemp, signed at the end of a one-month-long negotiation. Kemp is the attraction, the man who could change Montegranaro’s anonymity. People think about his last tragic appearance in NBA five years ago with Orlando, and while the 39-year-old center attests to his physical fitness (and his mental fitness…?), time and a long period of inactivity won’t help him.
Snaidero Udine. It’s all about the money, we say. Sad but true. The same thought has crossed president Snaidero’s mind, when he knocked on the doors of local sponsors and institutions. In all of Friuli, nobody wants to invest in basketball, and Snaidero has taken a step back. The team’s plan: Stay in Serie A, full stop. Jermaine Jackson will get the leadership, while Rashad Anderson is the first offensive option after a 20 ppg season in Livorno. Udine has a strictly defensive identity, as is coach Caja’s want. More probable this season are wins of 65-60 scores, as opposed to 90-87. Pay attention to what Antonutti provides in his second year as starter.
Solsonica Rieti. The financial situation is not so wonderful in Rieti. Within a limited budget (rumoured at about €1.5 million), created was a team which could avoid relegation, this season made even more difficult due to a two-point penalty Rieti must pay for administrative offences of last year. Meanwhile, leader Finley has departed for Siena, and the team begins its run with four new American faces: Jerry Green, Folarin Cambell, Pervis Pasco and Roderick Wilmont. Coach Lardo is the best re-signing that Rieti could have made.
Carife Ferrara. If Collins becomes the next McIntyre; if Jamison has still the fuel to be a factor in the paint; if Mykal Riley and Ndudi Ebi don’t complain of pressure … So many ifs for Ferrara, but the future here may be brighter than we expect. The team structure has remained the same, and coach Valli isn’t frightened to face his first Serie A championship; the place is boiling over in anticipation of a new adventure. The ingredients to obtain a stay in the highest Italian league are all there, but the road is not so easy.
Written by Francesco Cappelletti