By Cindy Garcia-Bennett, PA Sport
It has been a busy summer so far for Italy coach Gianni Lambruschi.
Lambruschi guided the women's side to a sixth-place finish in this month's U20 European tournament while his next task will be all the more challenging.
Italy will host the EuroBasket Women in Chieti in September and having failed to qualify for the last three European Championships, the Azzurre are determined to make up for lost time.
In an exclusive interview with Cindy Garcia-Bennett on behalf of FIBA Europe, Lambruschi speaks of Italy's challenges and ambitions.
FIBA Europe: Mr Lambruschi, you must be excited that your nation will host the Women's EuroBasket. How important is it for Italy to have a starring role at this prestigious tournament?
||Our aim in Chieti is to progress to the second round, which would allow us to remain in the top division.
Lambruschi: The fact that we are hosting the event will allow us to compete in this tournament. For us to be able to take part means that we must do the possible and the impossible to get back the credibility that we have lost in Europe in recent years. We are ranked 47th in the world and although I think we deserve to be in a better position, this is the reality because it comes down to results.
FIBA Europe: Italy last played at the EuroBasket Women in 1999. Could the tournament in Chieti be the turning point for the Azzurre to prove they can compete at the highest level?
Lambruschi: We are a nation that needs to maintain itself in Division A and hope that one year we have a strong group to battle for bigger aims. It is always a big sacrifice for us to avoid relegation but this is the reality we face right now. Our aim in Chieti is to progress to the second round, which would allow us to remain in the top division.
FIBA Europe: In your opinion, how can the level of the women's game be raised in Italy?
Lambruschi: The Italian basketball federation has put a lot of work and effort on our youth teams. It's important for me to have a wide selection of players to choose from. If you work hard with youth teams, you eventually will build a base to have a stronger senior team in the future. This is what we are doing.
FIBA Europe: There have been encouraging signs with Italy's U18 team finishing eighth and the U20 team claiming sixth position in this summer's European competitions. How do you see the future of the senior national team?
Lambruschi: We do have some quality players in the U18 and U20 teams. But like the men's national teams, we have inverted a tendency, it is the national teams that are creating players for the domestic league.
FIBA Europe: What can we expect from the Italian national team?
Lambruschi: We have worked very hard for two years and we hope that results will come our way. I just hope to have the opportunity to choose my players and not have to deal with injuries.
FIBA Europe: When will you know about the final makeup of your team as two of your experienced players, Simone Ballardini and Mariangella Cirone are struggling with injury.
|Simona Ballardini is unlikely to suit up with the Italians due to injury.|
Lambruschi: Ballardini has a cross-ligament injury and is unlikely to recover in time while our playmaker Cirone only has a 20% chance of playing in the tournament as she is recovering from a knee injury. They are two very important players in our team so their absence will be a big setback for us. Having said that, we must have ambition and see where we are at once the preparation stage finishes.
FIBA Europe: How important will Boston College center Kathrine Ress be in your team?
Lambruschi: I expect a lot from Kathrine. She is a tall player who can give us a lot of strength underneath the basket. She is currently playing in the WNBA with Minnesota but she will return on August 6 to prepare for the tournament.
FIBA Europe: The group Italy is in is very challenging, with games against 2003 champions Russia, 2001 gold medalists France and a very dangerous Greece. Are you looking forward to taking on these teams in your own backyard?
Lambruschi: You could see it as fair that we were drawn in a strong first round group considering that we have been granted permission to play in the tournament as the host nation. But it's obvious that the draw didn't go as well as it could have for us. We must accept it and look to earn some respect on the court.