With Luigi Datome’s career on the line, as well as their future at the 2023 FIBA World Cup, Italy did everything they could to lose but Gigi made sure the story is still being written as they eventually took down Puerto Rico
Whatever fear of a hangover from Gianmarco Pozzecco’s men after their epic comeback win over Serbia was quickly put to bed as a 15-0 run early in this one had the names of Italy’s starters rolling off my tongue like music. The eyes however weren’t for Fontecchio, Melli, Polonara, Tonut, or Spissu. No, this was all about number 70.
One last ride
Luigi Datome has said that this World Cup will be his last outing in basketball, at all. That meant that defeat here, in a largely empty gym in Manila (albeit an historic one) would put a damp end to an amazing career. Nobody with a heart could want that for Gigi, a man who has been a heart with legs for so very long. Today was his 200th appearance for Italy and the world wanted him to ensure he got to 201.
Gigi’s no longer the star but he was always a reluctant one. Leading on the court, he loves that, but he has always been the classic team first player. Ceding the spotlight to Simone Fontecchio of the Utah Jazz is something he does gladly. That way he can focus simply on banging about the court yet somehow always ending up being open in the corner when the time suits.
He sat most of the second quarter as Italy basically sparred evenly with Puerto Rico. There was a scent of phony war to this first 20 minutes. Tremont Waters was creating plenty but was yet to start attacking as a scorer hard while Fontechhio was quiet enough through the first 20 minutes. Everybody was keeping everything in reserve for the 20 minutes that would decide the game…except for Stefano Tonut who scored 6 of 8 from the field with almost all of them being uncontested baseline drive lay-ups. Take them while you can, they all count.
Gigi had the last word that mattered for his side in the first half with one of those corner threes but it was a tight one all the same.
BallinEurope is ramping up its YouTube game this season. Subscribe to our channel now for player exclusives, analysis videos, and much more.
Italy’s efficiency in this one was rancid and Puerto Rico had fully reeled them in by the midpoint of the third. This despite the European side having taken 13 more shots than their opponents. Italy was fine at creating chances but just awful at doing anything with them.
Back came Gigi to settle things down. He’s well used to having to do clean up duty in the national team jersey and that’s what was needed here. A made three off a generally terribly executed half court set woke up the Italian offence as Fontecchio made just his second field goal of the day soon after, followed by his third, and we’ve read this story before.
Closing it out
Fourth quarter and it’s Datome time. Gigi opened with a three and when he went for his next, heavily guarded and with dire footing, it still seemed a cert to go in but nope. The fight was still there as he rose up to punch a ball he had no hope of rebounding back into Italian hands. Gigi had spurred a 14-4 run to put Italy 10 points up early in the fourth. The dream was not going to die today.
The rally was enough and Italy advanced. Gigi Datome’s story is not over and it’s next chapter will decide if he gets a shot at a first ever medal in international basketball in his last ever tournament.