Bargnani Ready To Pull Off Magic Trick

29.03.2011

Destination Lithuania

Mark Woods

Every week, fibaeurope.com collaborator Mark Woods talks to players with a single travel destination in mind this summer, Lithuania.

First in the series is Italy's "magician", Andrea Bargnani.

Mark Woods writes on basketball for a number of British newspapers as well as broadcasting for the BBC and Sky Sports. He is also assistant editor of mvp247.com and can be found on Twitter @markbritball.

Count me in, says Andrea Bargnani.

Italy's talisman will be headed back to Europe this summer, not just for a much-needed vacation but also to once more serve as the focal point of his national team.

"It's in my plans," confirms the Toronto Raptors centre.

"If everything is OK with the team and my body, I'll be in Lithuania."

The availability of ‘Il Mago' (The Magician) for Eurobasket 2011 is a welcome tonic for the plans of Italy head coach Simone Pianigiani.

7. Andrea Bargnani (Italy)
To say Andrea Bargnani is important to Pianigiani's team is an understatement. The Roman averaged 24.1 points and 6.6 rebounds for Italy last summer

Third in their qualifying group last summer behind Montenegro and Israel despite the scoring of their NBA star, Italy were among the most relieved nations after FIBA Europe extended its invite list from 16 to 24 teams.

The Azzurri were absent from Poland two years ago, after losing to France twice in the Additional Qualifying Round

Now the path is clear for Bargnani to appear in a major championship for the second time, after EuroBasket 2007.

However it is not the possibility of a European title which is his major obsession. It is the potential, en route, to secure one of the two free passes to next year's Olympic Games in London.

"It would be amazing," the Roman declares.

"To play in an Olympics would be incredible. That's the main reason I want to play for the national team this summer, to play in an Olympics. It's a dream of mine. It's something I've not had the chance to experience before. And I want to make 2012 my first time."

The Italians have ample strength as they look ahead to an initial group which includes their old friends Israel and France, as well as Latvia, Germany and the powerful Serbia.

His former Toronto team-mate Marco Belinelli is a relative veteran of the international game and, despite inconsistencies, has held onto a starting role in the backcourt of the New Orleans Hornets this season.

Meanwhile Danilo Gallinari has settled into life in Denver after arriving from the New York Knicks.

"We've always had great talent," Bargnani states.

"We just have to play well as a team.

"In the EuroBasket, it doesn't matter how many NBA players you have. The important thing is to play together and hit a peak. It is always so competitive now at Eurobasket."

Bargnani knows Italian eyes will be on him. The 2.13m star is 25 years old now and with five years of experience at the highest level of club basketball.

22. Marco Belinelli (Italy)
Marco Belinelli has been criticised for lack of consistency, but no one can question his commitment to the Squadra Azzurra

In Toronto, they have relied on him more this season since the departure of Chris Bosh. The number one pick of the 2006 NBA Draft has been asked to carry more of a load than ever before.

"There has been more focus on me," he admits. "People expect more. You have to keep getting better."

Italy will have high expectations from him also.

Last summer, he led his side in scoring in every game, finishing second only to Bo McCalebb of F.Y.R of Macedonia in the overall qualifying charts.

Without his contribution, he knows it will be hard for Pianigiani's men to imagine progress into the second round, let alone an Olympic challenge.

"It's a good kind of pressure," he smiles.

"I'm used to having that in Toronto. I've been in the NBA for five years now. Ever since I was the number one draft pick, I've had that pressure."

In March, he made a brief trip back across the Atlantic to play at the venue where his ultimate dreams might be realised.

The Raptors were taking part in the NBA's first-ever regular season games in Europe. They lost twice to the New Jersey Nets, despite the Italian's weighty individual contribution.

"It was great to be part of history," he confirms.

"It was fun and a great experience. My mother, my father and a few friends from Italy were there. It was great to be able to be in front of them."

There is, of course, the possibility that he might play more frequently in Europe next season if the NBA pursues a lock-out.

Bargnani was named Euroleague's best young player in 2006 while with Benetton Treviso, before seeking fame and fortune in North America. Would he consider returning if the Raptors are sent into hibernation?

"I don't know," he admits.

"It's a tough call. I have a long contract so I'm not even sure that I can."

Italy will pray that the lockout will not affect his summer itinerary. The Azzurri are out to conjure up a surprise.

For that, they will need their magician.
 


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