MANILA, Philippines—Paolo Banchero set aside his emotions and kept his focus solely on the game against Italy, a squad where he initially expressed his intention to play before choosing to represent Team USA.
Banchero didn’t seem bothered by the boos from Italian fans, helping Team USA eliminate the Azzurri, 100-63, on Tuesday night and advance to the Fiba World Cup at Mall of Asia Arena.
“It was very fun getting out there, playing in a high-competitive quarterfinal game. I’m happy we got the win and we get to move on to the semifinals,” Banchero, whose father has Italian heritage, told reporters after tallying eight points, three rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
Banchero expressed his desire to play for Italy last year but decided to go with the United States instead, which understandably did not sit well with the Italians.
The Orlando Magic star said Team USA had to redeem itself and play true to form after failing to show up in a 110-104 loss to Lithuania two nights ago.
“It’s very important [to have fun],” Banchero said. “We took a tough loss in the last game, felt like we didn’t play up to our standards on the defensive end, so we just want to come out and make a statement on defense and if we do that, it’s gonna propel our offense.”
— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) September 5, 2023
Banchero was even part of one of the highlight plays on the night when he threw down a two-handed dunk off a between-the-legs lob by Tyrese Haliburton that put the US ahead, 83-44, entering the final frame.
“I thought he was gonna throw it off the backboard. So he went between his legs and kind of threw up my timing. I wanted to do a fancy dunk off the backboard but he threw it between his legs so I just wanna finish it,” he said.
Team USA takes on Wednesday’s winner between Germany and Latvia in the semifinal on Friday.
“It happens naturally. The basketball’s only gonna get tougher. We got one of two great teams coming up and whoever we play is gonna be a great match-up and we’ll be excited, we’ll be ready to go,” the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year said.
“I think we played pretty good right there. Obviously, it became a blowout so we got a little bit sloppy in the end but I loved our energy, our intensity on the defensive end. I think as long as we play that hard on defense, the offense is just gonna be there,” he added.
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