|Coach Simone Pianigiani will carry much more than heavy suitcases to Istanbul after a fantastic summer with the national team |
Two months ago, when Italy were embarking on their EuroBasket qualifying campaign, there were more clouds than smiles in the Azzurri camp.
Head coach Simone Pianigiani knew he could not count on Andrea Bargani and Marco Belinelli, youngsters Alessandro Gentile and later Nicolo Melli were also ruled out, while star forward Danilo Gallinari was shaking off an injury and was doubtful up until the opening game.
To make matters worse, Italy were drawn in a competitive group along with 2010 World Championship finalists Turkey, the up and coming Czech Republic, hard-nosed fighters Belarus and Portugal, a side very keen on making back-to-back EuroBasket appearances.
Fast forward sixty days and Italy find themselves top of the class - first place in Group F with a perfect record and the best goal average of all the teams that finished undefeated anywhere in the Qualification Round.
"I (will) keep the experience of this summer in my heart because apart from the 8-0 record, which no one expected, it allowed me to train a group of players who did not spare themselves even for a second and to witness their growth," Pianigiani told Italian journalists before leaving his home city of Siena for Istanbul.
The Italian tactician will take over at Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce before returning to the national team ahead of the EuroBasket.
"It was wonderful on Saturday night in Trieste when after the end of the game with Belarus you could take a step back and enjoy the smiles and the happiness of the team and the excellent technical staff, that allowed us to work in the best way possible during these two months."
Pianigiani however is careful not to let himself or this group of players he speaks so fondly about get carried away by what they achieved this summer.
"There is a long way ahead until EuroBasket 2013 but our departure point will be the spirit and heart that this group has displayed on the court in every single game and practice session.
"The technical virtues are there but we're still far from the top teams in Europe, our biggest asset is the will to win, which for example allowed us to defat Turkey twice with a comeback.
"As one could see even in the last games, this Qualification Round was not only very demanding physically, but also quite insidious - Serbia and Turkey risked elimination, other top teams suffered a lot.
"I would like to highlight the great work that the (Italian) Federation has been doing and I am not only referring to the senior national team."
The tangible result of Italy's summer efforts is obviously the ticket to Slovenia.
The coach however can point out several other long-term benefits and he does it in the form of a rhetorical question he had probably been asking himself before the Azzurri commenced their wonderful summer adventure.
"How many of these guys were used to travelling so often, playing with so much pressure on them, finish late games and then the day after go back to the gym and train at this level to prepare for the following game just three days later?"