|After injuries sidelined him in recent years, Danilo Gallinari is finally making his senior national debut for Italy|
By Jeff Taylor
It has been a very long road to Italy's national team for Danilo Gallinari.
As far back as EuroBasket 2007, when the 2.05m Gallinari was still a teenager, former Azzurri coach Carlo Recalcati had him penciled in his squad but just a couple of weeks before the start of that tournament, he hurt his knee.
In 2008, Gallinari's focus was on launching his NBA career.
Selected in the first round of that year's draft, Gallinari went to America to get ready for his first campaign with the New York Knicks.
Severe back pain forced him to cut short his rookie season and he had surgery in April.
Instead of playing for Italy, he recovered from the operation.
Then in 2010, despite having played for New York, Gallinari had to spend the summer strengthening his back and legs on the advice of doctors and that caused him to miss Italy's EuroBasket qualifying campaign.
Now, Gallinari is fit and is with the Azzurri.
"I felt happy and ready to go," he said, when asked about his reaction to knowing he would play.
"It's really emotional because it's been three summers with injuries and I couldn't play with these guys.
"We've known each other since we were little guys, so having the chance to play together is great."
What he brings to the Italy squad is obvious.
He is supremely confident with the ball in his hands.
Gallinari says he's a better player now, three years into his NBA career.
"I think I've improved my game a little bit," Gallinari said.
"I've improved my body, my explosiveness and everything regarding basketball in general."
Gallinari was sent to the Denver Nuggets earlier this year before the trade deadline in a deal that saw Carmelo Anthony move to New York.
He played well in Colorado for George Karl, shooting 46.7% from behind the arc in the NBA playoffs.
The 23-year-old averaged about 15 points and five rebounds the last two years.
As the saying goes, you can take the boy out of Italy but not Italy out of the boy.
Being away from his homeland has only served to strengthen his love for his country.
"I always feel Italian no matter where I am, 24 hours a day," he said.
"And it's great to come back and to stay with my family, stay with my friends.
"Everyone knows me, so it's great to come back."
Just because he hasn't played for Italy doesn't mean he hasn't suffered with the national team out of the major competitions.
Italy last played in one at EuroBasket 2007 in Spain.
They missed out on the Beijing Olympics, failed to reach EuroBasket 2009 in Poland and missed last year's FIBA World Championship.
"It's been frustrating the past few years because we couldn't achieve any championship, or make any tournament, nothing," Gallinari said.
"So it's about time to come back."
The team has put in a lot of hard work with something in mind.
"We are ready," he said.
"We've been preparing since the 18th of July.
"It's really important in order to qualify for the Olympics.
"That's our goal and hopefully we can get in with this European Championship."
On Wednesday, Gallinari and Italy lost their first game to Serbia, 80-68.