BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Alessandro Gentile and Giorgio Armani lifting the championship trophy (photo: Ciamillo-Castoria)|
It has taken 6,604 days but EA7 Emporio Armani (Olimpia) Milano have finally celebrated again their team winning the Italian Serie A title and, just like the last time, a captain named Gentile lifted the trophy.
In 1996, an already veteran Ferdinando (Nando) Gentile had done the honours; on 27 June 2014, it was the turn of his 21-year-old son Alessandro.
Milano prevailed 74-67 at home over defending champions Montepaschi Siena in Game 7 of a thrilling, memorable title series, finally tasting the joy of a championship.
The two young Italian internationals of the newly-crowned champions paved the way for their team as Gentile scored a game-high 18 points and Nicolo Melli registered a double-double of 11 points and a career-high 13 rebounds.
Gentile averaged 13.8 points, 4,1 rebounds and 2.2 assists in the title series and became the youngest ever play-offs MVP, in a Finals that attracted the biggest TV audience in Italy since 2004.
The young star has thus capped a brilliant season that commenced with excellent displays at EuroBasket 2013, his first tournament with the senior Italian national team and continued with him assuming the captaincy of the storied Olimpia side in the Euroleague and the Serie A.
"It's one of the biggest joys of my life," Gentile said moments after winning the title and the MVP trophy.
"I have been here for some time now and we have tasted bitter moments and also played badly sometimes, but this is an enormous joy.
|The Mediolanum Forum in Milan turned red and white for Game 7 of the Italian finals (Photo: Ciamillo-Castoria)|
"Siena have been enormous in defeat, they have been an irreducible adversary.
"I knew it was going to be tough because the play-offs are a totally different thing, everyone here starts from zero.
"Everyone said we were better, that it would be simple.
"But winning never comes simple and everyone who's been here since the first day how much effort we've put in it."
For Siena this was the last, unbelievably heroic act of a glorious era, as the heavily indebted historical club will have to follow the fate of Fortitudo Bologna and Benetton Treviso in the new season and will be relegated in the fourth Italian division.
Siena actually came within one step of upsetting Milano and bowing out with yet another title, despite the fact Olimpia won the first two games of the series.
Once the series moved to Tuscany Siena displayed the never-say-die spirit that converted this club into an Italian dynasty and evened the series at 2-2.
Not content with that, and playing as if they were out to achieve one of the biggest surprises in basketball history, Siena travelled back to Milano and clinched a 72-68 win to take the lead in the series.
Siena could have been crowned in Game 6, back in Tuscany, but instead the clash turned into an epic affair that could serve as the launching pad of Milano's era in the Serie A.
The scores were tied at 72 following a too-close-for-comfort 40 minutes when Milano's Curtis Jerrells, who had only scored two points until that moment, drilled a jump-shot from the right shoulder just as the final buzzer was sounding, to gift his team a 74-72 victory.
Milano had survived and, this time around, they were not going to fail again at home.
"Our objective was to get this thing here," Milano head coach Luca Banchi said after the game with the trophy in his hands.
"I would not underestimate the value that the game-winner of Curtis Jerrells had in this series.
"But these are the values that this club transmits to everyone, players, coaches and front office staff.
"The response of the public was important since the beginning, we started having sold-outs at home early in the season, before the victories arrived, because people had perceived the spirit of this team.
"You come here to achieve the big results and to do it in front of 12,000 people makes it even more special."