Gigi Datome is the captain of the Italian national team. He played in his first European Championship in 2007 when he was not yet 20 years old. It was an unexpected selection, dictated by injuries, but he wasn’t ready yet. Then he played the Europeans four more times, the 2019 World Cup, too. And the 2016 Pre-Olympic Tournament, which was for many Italian players of his generation the saddest event to remember, due to that defeat after an overtime against Croatia in Turin that erased the Olympic dream. In fact, the medals won with the national youth teams remain the only ones won with the Azzurri. But in the meantime, he has climbed the historical list: he is 13th for points scored, 15th for number of appearances with the Italian Team.
He’s missing from the Italian league since June 19, 2013. That evening ended in tears, in the locker room of the Rome arena, in Viale Tiziano: Virtus had just lost game 5 of the most unexpected final series in its history. The tears were pouring because of a vanished dream, but perhaps even more for a beautiful season that was ending. And finally, he was also aware, Datome, that he would no longer wear that jersey with which he had scored over 1,000 points in the Italian league. The journey, from Olbia to Siena, from Scafati to Rome was over. Datome had to decide what to do as a grown-up, as a mature player. He was almost 25. He chose to play in Detroit, the sixth Italian ever to go to the NBA after Enzo Esposito, Stefano Rusconi, Andrea Bargnani, Marco Belinelli and Danilo Gallinari; before Nicolò Melli. Unlike his three peers, however, he had not been selected in the NBA draft, he was an “undrafted” who had attracted the attention of the scouts for the way he performed on the court. Among other things, without benefitting from the EuroLeague classic exposure.
The next seven years were his prime years: in the NBA he had to regain everything, in a certain sense he had to start from scratch, but when he arrived in Istanbul, lured by Zeljko Obradovic, his role was from the beginning the one of a very important piece of the puzzle, whatever role he would have played, that of a small forward with a lot of size or the one of a stretch power forward. The role that led him to reach three consecutive EuroLeague finals and four Final Fours. “Now, I’m about to write a new page of my career and my life. I can’t wait to start building what we wish to become as a team. I’ll work to deserve all the accolades I’m getting now,” he said about his new chapter in Milan.