Nicolò Origgi on a shining star in an otherwise forgettable season for Olimpia Milano
Olimpia Milano’s nightmare debut season in the 16-team Euroleague has finally ended – not in the best way for a club reportedly with the sixth biggest budget in the competition, but still – for the likely relief of their coaching and medical staff. A promising start soon turned out to be a fluke, derailed first by Alessandro Gentile’s departure on bad terms and then by a number of injuries to key players such as Zoran Dragic – out for the season – and the recently recovered Rakim Sanders, Krunoslav Simon and Simone Fontecchio. Besides the Gentile affair, however, precocious signs of locker room instability – well highlighted by coach Repesa’s rant against his supposedly selfish and lazy troops – were already an issue and have further contributed to disrupt the Italian champions’ continental campaign, leading captain Cinciarini to openly question the team’s desire after the final loss against Kazan.
As it often happens, though, a dysfunctional situation might as well be the reason behind some unexpected positives. This is exactly the case of Davide Pascolo’s emergence in the second part of the season, when all playoff hopes had vanished and, as a consequence, EA7’s usually marginal domestic core received a major boost both in on-court minutes and responsibilities. The Italian forward – whose skinny frame somehow reminds to a shorter version of another illustrious number four hailing not far from his hometown of Udine, namely Gregor Fucka – has an history of being an underdog, someone that at first sight has always looked like he didn’t belong to any of the leagues he had to climb from the scratch in order to get on top – starting from the domestic second division, through the top tier, to finish with the highest European level. As regularly as doubts surrounded him, he has instead showed he could not only hang on to such ever increasing competition, but also be a dominating yet discreet force. A Legadue MVP title combined with the first ever ascent to the first division for his then Trento team, followed by an immediate impact in an even more incredible fourth-place regular season finish as a Serie A rookie and, finally, an astonishing Eurocup debut campaign ended only in the semifinals were Davide’s business card last summer, as he had just joined the most coveted of his victims. Yet, all of this didn’t seem enough once again.
This time, though, it really looked like the fairy tale had come to an abrupt end amid multiple DNPs and brief cameos over the first months of the Euroleague season. The unorthodox strengths that had enabled Pascolo to reach the summit up to that point were being overshadowed by his downsides for the very first time. Such a frail physique and an ugly-looking jumpshot that requires its fair share of time to be launched were seemingly too much of a disadvantage among the European elite. Then, as Olimpia’s fate couldn’t be undone already at the end of January, tanking mode was immediately turned on in order to focus on domestic goals, starting with the then forthcoming national cup Final Eight. Dada wasted no time and immediately came to the Red Shoes’ rescue, sparking an high-scoring comeback win against a red-hot Olympiacos in perfect Pascolo style – an exciting mix of relentless hustle, anticipation and great feel for the basket displayed through dynamic drives and timely off-the-ball cuts often leading to floaters, spin moves, baby hooks, turn-around jumpers, fakes and counters depending on the circumstances. Since that breakout performance, other exploits have followed and, even though consistency remained an issue, it seemed as if a new player had joined Milano’s roster. Just ask Reggio Emilia as they came up short in a tight Coppa Italia semifinal game largely because of Pascolo’s heroics, after which EA7 went on to lift the traditional mid-season trophy.
Aside from team and individual glory, however, winning the hearts of the usually detached – yet hard to please – home crowd might have been Davide’s biggest success thus far. Only seldom-used defensive ace Bruno Cerella and another bruiser from the recent past such as Mason Rocca – both known and highly appreciated for their toughness and team-first attitude – have indeed garnered the same amount of love among local fans during the Armani era. As we have learned over his career, though, there is still a lot to be written about this humble young man from Northeastern Italy. Would you still bet against that?