Sports

NBA star ‘fooled’ Italian basketball president by jumping ship to Team USA for FIBA World Cup

After initially committing to play for the Italian national team in this year’s FIBA World Cup, Paolo Banchero has since decided to play for Team USA.

The Orlando Magic star has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Italy – his father is of Italian descent, and he acquired an Italian passport in 2020.

With the change of heart, Gianni Petrucci, the Italian basketball federation president, says Banchero left him blindsided.

Paolo Banchero against the Hawks

Paolo Banchero #5 of the Orlando Magic looks on during the game against the Atlanta Hawks on December 19, 2022, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images)

“Betrayal, especially in basketball, is a strong word. Situations like this happen, and personally, I’m used to it. But he fooled us, we were planning a great commercial strategy for him,” Petrucci told Italian publication La Gazzetta dello Sport on Sunday. 

“It was a legitimate decision, but [Banchero] could have made a call to communicate that to us,” Petrucci said, according to a translation from Basket News. “Instead, we learned about his decision from the newspapers.”

Paolo Banchero plays against the Knicks

Paolo Banchero #5 of the Orlando Magic in action during the first quarter of the game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on October 24, 2022, in New York City. (Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

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Petrucci says the 2020 No. 1 overall pick had been in Italy recently, and he would have taken the news better had Banchero told him of his decision face-to-face.

“In the past few days, [Banchero] was in Milan, and despite our agreements with his agency, he avoided the meeting with coach Pozzecco,” Petrucci said. “Now we need to turn this disappointment into positive energy. I’m sure our coach will be able to do it.”

Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets in action against Paolo Banchero #5 of the Orlando Magic at Barclays Center on November 28, 2022, in New York City. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

The FIBA World Cup starts Aug. 25 in Manila, Philippines, and Team USA will be led by Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr.

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