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FIBA World Cup: Paolo Banchero treats USA's QF game as regular match despite spat with Italy's federation

Paolo Banchero doesn't want to bring along his personal issues with the Italian Basketball Federation ahead of the Italy-USA knockout battle. Cesca Rampas (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

TAGUIG--All eyes will be on Paolo Banchero when the United States battles Italy in the knockout quarterfinals of the FIBA World Cup on Tuesday night at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay.

The reigning NBA Rookie of the Year is facing the team he was supposed to be with if not for a controversial fallout sparked by his decision to switch sides.

Banchero, the cousin of Meralco Bolts player Chris, acquired an Italian passport in 2020, making him eligible to join Italy in international events.

However, apparently stemming from Italian coach Gianmarco Pozzecco's exclusion of him from the team's FIBA World Cup pool last April, Paolo Banchero, born and raised in Seattle, committed to Team USA instead, something that Italian Basketball Federation president Gianni Petrucci called a "betrayal."

Despite losing what could have been their best player to Team USA, Italy showed might in the Smart Araneta Coliseum leg of the FIBA World Cup by going 4-1, including a huge upset against Serbia on Friday night which practically decided which team takes the top seed in Group I ahead of the quarterfinals.

Up next for Italy is Banchero and Team USA, which could mean drama might unfold in the case of the Orlando Magic rising star.

However, Banchero said during Team USA's practice on Monday at Kerry Sports Manila that he does not want to think about the off-court storyline that comes with the said game.

"I'll treat it like any other game," Banchero said.

Instead, he talked about how ecstatic he is about moving closer to winning the FIBA World Cup championship.

"I'm excited. It's the quarterfinals so a chance to chase for a gold medal. I can't wait," Banchero further said.

Banchero is also nursing a thumb injury, but despite that, he said that he is good to go on Tuesday night.

"It's alright. It's at a point where it's not going to get better, so I just gotta play through it," Banchero added.

With or without the off-court drama, Banchero acknowledged the importance of the game as Team USA looks to avoid missing out on a medal for the second straight edition and crashing to its worst FIBA World Cup finish ever.

"It's single elimination. No more second chances," Banchero further said. "We gotta do whatever it takes to win."

The Italy-USA game is set for an 8:40 p.m. tip-off on Tuesday night. In the first game at 4:45 p.m., Lithuania takes on Serbia to open the knockout stages.

Follow him on X: @IvanSaldajeno

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