Happy Birthday House of Sports: Paul Banchero participated in the talk “Paolo Banchero: 20 years like us,” together with Federica Masolin. Below are some excerpts from his talk in the Sky studios.
This is my first time in Italy. Everyone knows that part of my family comes from this country and I have always dreamed of visiting. Being here is really special for me. My family comes from northern Italy, from Genoa, and my father has always told me about my origins. My name in the United States is unique. Growing up, I realized that no one was named like me. I was curious, I wanted to know why I was called that, so my father told me about my origins, about that branch of the family I had in Italy and what had become of it. From that moment on I was always intrigued by the idea of coming here and learning more about it.
My mother has always inspired me a lot. She was a basketball coach, and from the time I was born until I was 13, 14, she always kept coaching. As a kid, every day I would go to the gym with her so she could keep an eye on me: she would take me to practice, let me hang around and see how she coached the team. She was always strict with me and taught me many things about both basketball and life. At the time it wasn’t easy, I was just a kid and I saw my mother being very hard on me; but when you get older and look back you realize that a lot of those teachings back then are still useful to me today and for that I can only be eternally grateful to her. In basketball she was definitely the most important source of inspiration for me.
The first love of football
American football was my first great love, even though I grew up playing basketball. My father played football. When I started, I was pretty good right away, while I had to work much harder to improve in basketball. On a football field everything came more naturally to me. It was my first love, I grew up loving it, playing it with my friends, watching it on TV. Even now I still follow it a lot. When I got to high school, however, I started growing a lot and after my first year I had to stop because I reached 2.03 meters-I was starting to play basketball more seriously, and when you get to a certain height it becomes difficult to be on a football field. So because of basketball, I started to participate in several national championships across America and started to build some notoriety. I was recruited by several schools, and that showed me that my dream was not that far away. People started telling me that I had a chance to go to the NBA, and when I was convinced that opportunity was there then I chose to believe it all the way, and work as hard as I could to get where I am now.
The explosion in my first year in the NBA.
The last year has gone by really fast, and so much has happened, from being the first pick in the draft to being rookie of the year. It all happened very quickly but I learned a lot. I’m living my dream: if someone had told me when I was 13 or 14 years old that I was going to be the first pick in the Draft, I probably would have looked at him like he was crazy and laughed, because it would have seemed out of this world to even think that. But by staying focused, working hard, things happened naturally, God had a plan for me and I was lucky to make it. Draft night I will never forget. To be selected, to hear the NBA commissioner say my name was the realization of a dream. I cried with joy for the first time. I had never experienced such emotions. I remember everything about what happened that night, the Magic people I met, the conversation with my coach on the phone, I remember everything so vividly. It was an amazing moment.
College at Duke
I definitely have to thank Coach K, Coach Krzyzewski. He always encouraged me and my teammates to enjoy the college experience and to interact with other students, with professors to make the best of the experience at Duke. He has been there pretty much his whole life, coaching Duke since the 1980s and knowing it better than anyone else. He always told us from the beginning to enjoy the environment, because for so many of us – and for me as well – it’s a one-time, one-year experience. At many other schools for example, it happens that the basketball team lives in a dormitory or a separate building. He, on the other hand, immediately allowed us freshmen – me and three other boys – to be with other students, no distinction between boys and girls. When we went back to our rooms to sleep, we would run into other students, regular kids, people who were in class with us, and with whom we had daily interactions. It made us feel like any other Duke student. Then, sure, when you’re part of the basketball team you bring a certain “star power” with you, the pressures and attention are greater, but I think Coach K did a great job of making us feel comfortable and welcome. His main goal is to raise good people. He has been very hard on me. He never gave me a day off. He wanted to bring out the best in me. All reasons why I always trusted him and why I wanted to play for him. I knew he would certainly not just pat me on the back and give me compliments-he told me things I didn’t want to hear, but he always helped me give my best. One lesson I learned from him and always tell everyone is to always show strength, on and off the field. Don’t show weakness, don’t show frustration, but always be strong, stoic, in the way you behave and present yourself, because you don’t want others to figure out what your weaknesses are and exploit them. Therefore, your body language should not show emotion, but be strong.
I think my best quality is versatility. I am able to do anything, on a basketball court there is nothing I can’t do. I can play in any position, both offense and defense. I am also a team player, on the court I am unselfish and always want to win. The will to win I think is one of my best qualities, as is being able to pass it on to everyone on the team and being the best teammate I can be. But if we talk about characteristics, my best quality is versatility, the ability to be able to do everything on the field. One characteristic I would like to steal from an opponent? I couldn’t point to one particular play but, for example, watching how Nikola Jokic won the title was inspiring. Seeing how he plays, how he makes everything easier for his teammates: he’s a great teammate without the need to make a spectacular play, a dribble number or a crazy dunk. He just plays basketball the way it’s supposed to be played, makes the right passes, always has the right reads, and then he’s very talented. He can make basketball simple. If there was one thing I would like to steal from another player, I would take his ability to play basketball simply and do it as efficiently as possible. He really does a great job.
Goals: Playoffs and All Star Game
Certainly our goal is to play in the playoffs. That is everyone’s number one goal, on the team, players and coaches all want to achieve that. I personally also want to be an All-Star next year. This year at the beginning of the season I was playing at a very high level, then I encountered some obstacles, injuries slowed me down a bit, but I am convinced that next season I can play at an All-Star level.
Sky Press Office