Two hours until tip-off, and Luigi Datome is already out on the floor, warming up. Roughly five minutes of stretching before he takes a ball from the Molten bag and attempts his first jump shot.
He prepares for each game with great detail and especially as this is his first Eurobasket, he is desperate to impress. Maybe more so because as soon as his Slovenian adventure concludes, he will head to Detroit to start a two-year stint with the Pistons with some journalists present here predicting big things for the 25-year-old, few even saying he could start in the Motor City.
“I’m just happy to be on the team,” Datome says. “I’ve been working harder than ever before here. In practice, in the warm-ups, I’ve been working hard not just here for my team, but when I go to Detroit. I am aware of the differences that the NBA brings compared to Italian league.
“I like to warm-up early, something that Ray Allen does a lot of. I like to do that also. Get a feel of your surroundings, where you’re playing, get used to the basket and the court, even though we’ve had weeks and weeks of it.”
The Montebelluna native won Serie A’s Most Valuable Player award last season as he guided Acea Roma to a place in the domestic finals where they lost out to Italian giants Montepaschi Siena. The forward averaged solid numbers of 16.4 points and 5.6 rebounds over the season, leading to a two-year, $3.5million deal with Detroit.
This Eurobasket has also seen Datome grow further as a player. A candidate for a spot on Eurobasket’s All-Tournament team, he has 13.6 points and just over five rebounds, leading Italy’s rebirth in this tournament from years of poor showings, failing to qualify for Eurobasket in 2009, the world championships, the year after and a first round exit two years ago at Eurobasket in Lithuania. Their spot only confirmed as an invited team from FIBA Europe due to the expansion of teams from 16 to 24 in the tournament.
“We’re a nation that is proud of its basketball,” said Datome. “We have a number of NBA players from Italy, and going into this Eurobasket, we wanted people to recognise us as a nation. A team that can compete with the best Europe has to offer and I think they now know that we are back on the circuit.
“We played with great belief in the first round and the basketball we were playing was great to watch. The competition has been the best here, and it’s preparing me well also.”
Italy’s path in Slovenia has seen them go a perfect 5-0 in group play to a respectable quarter-final place where they were edged by a strong Lithuania side. The basketball though has been exciting to watch and a World Cup spot is still in their sights as they fight for seventh spot against Serbia on Saturday afternoon.
Datome’s play throughout this tournament has not gone unnoticed, a major strength to play multiple positions, a desire to compete, and just the right age so that Dumars, along with the Pistons coaching staff can mature him further as a player and help him get even better as the season goes. Maybe the $3.5million price tag is bargain.
“I love him,” NBA analyst and Ukraine coach Mike Fratello said of Datome.
“I think Datome is going to be an excellent player, he’s a combination of a four, but he’s a three. He can dribble the ball, he can make the pass, he can shoot from the three-point line. I think he’s very team-orientated, so I have a great deal of respect and admiration for him. I like how he plays.”
Datome has a bright future ahead of him. He has been spoken very highly of in Slovenia; he now must prepare for the next stage of his career and keep up his reputation.
Photo courtesy of FIBA Europe.