EUROPEANS IN THE NBA
|Danilo Gallinari confirmed he will be available for Italy at EuroBasket 2013|
The Tuesday night NBA game between the Chicago Bulls and the Denver Nuggets had all the makings of a big dramatic encounter.
The Nuggets edged out their hosts 119-118 in a highly-contested battle that went into overtime and whose outcome was only decided following a hotly-debated refereeing decision at the finale.
A tip-in with 1.7 seconds on the clock by Joakim Noah, the French center of the Chicago Bulls, that would have given victory to the home team, was eventually deemed as goal-tending by the officials and the basket did not count.
In addition to Noah, there were six more European players involved in the game; his team-mates Marco Belinelli and Vladimir Radmanovic and on the winners' side, Danilo Gallinari, Kostas Koufos, Timofey Mozgov and Evan Fournier.
There were also (at least) two Europeans watching in the stands, and were the only spectators in the entire arena that remained calmly seated while Chicago's United Center went up in flames at the finale.
For Italy head coach Simone Pianigiani and Italian Federation President (FIP) Giovanni Petrucci, the really important parts of the night came before and after that highly entertaining game.
The two men had boarded the plane to the USA on Sunday and their aim was to meet the Italian internationals that play in the NBA and discuss their availability for the upcoming summer's EuroBasket in Slovenia.
Pianigiani and Petrucci must have liked what they heard from Gallinari, ahead of the Tuesday game.
"It was a very nice meeting with Simone and the new president," the Nuggets small forward told a Gazzetta dello Sport reporter at United Center after his team's win.
Petrucci was elected FIP president on 12 January, replacing former Italy legend Dino Meneghin in the role, and this was his first meeting with the star player in his new capacity.
"We spoke a bit about everything, obviously we spoke about the national team and next summer, and they asked me about my availability," Gallinari explained.
"[I told them that] my availability for the EuroBasket is there."
Gallinari's declaration of intentions must have sounded like music in the ears of Pianigiani, as the forward is a linchpin of his new-look Italy.
He led the team in scoring (15.1 points per game) and rebounds (6.8 boards per game) last summer, when the Azzurri swept all before them to finish as the best team in the EuroBasket Qualification Round.
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The Italian coach though was probably not able to get a similar response from Belinelli, at least for the time being.
"We will have dinner and a friendly chat," the Bulls guard told the same reporter in non-committal fashion.
"I don't have the national team on my mind right now, I don't mean it in a negative way, it's just that now I am focused here (on Chicago) and getting as many wins as possible and the play-offs."
Belinelli's contractual situation is different to Gallinari's, as he becomes a free agent in the summer.
The initial plan of Pianigiani and Petrucci for this week included a meeting with the third Italian NBA player, Andrea Bargnani, but this might not take place at this point in time as the sidelined-through-injury Toronto Raptors center made clear on Sunday that he will not play again until the end of the NBA season.
Gallinari's Greek team-mate Kostas Koufos meanwhile, who has been having a breakout season with Denver, has also declared his intention to play at the EuroBasket.
"As long as I stay healthy until the end of the season, I would be very proud to suit up for the national team again in the summer," the center told Greek daily Ethnos.
Mozgov is expected to feature for Russia but his availability is not yet confirmed, while the situation of Noah and Fournier, who was a star for the French U20 team in 2011 but has not yet received a call-up on the senior national side, will become clearer in the near future.