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“Winning in Italy is something I haven’t done”: This is what Gigi Datome wants to do in Milan


Gigi Datome is this guy with the big beard and the long hair, a social-media presence who is well-liked and appreciated everywhere. He likes himself and what he’s done, but sometimes, sitting down and reflecting, he should take a time to consider how he defeated the odds, coming from a small town in an Italian island, a marvelous place, famous all around the world for several reasons, but certainly not for its ability to produce basketball players. His father was a great scorer, in the minor league. But Gigi is something else because Gigi wanted to be a professional player since day one, before he could probably realize how difficult the task was. The final score? Well, he became the Italian National Team captain, a EuroLeague-championship caliber player and somebody who was able to spend two years in the NBA, wearing the prestigious Boston Celtics jersey in the process.

WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOU COULD BECOME A PROFESSIONAL PLAYER? – “When I was in Siena I started to get the feeling that I could do it, because I was sharing the court with great professionals, like Galanda and Chiacig, players I was used to see with the National Team. Right there, I understood that I could try at least. Then I realized that I was comfortable in practice against them, then in some games, I was 18. Probably that’s when I realized I could be a pro player.”

YOU WENT BEYOND THE EXPECTATIONS – “I understood my limitations, I knew what I needed to do to improve, but my confidence was high. I thought that, given the right opportunity, the right situation, I could’ve been able to show what I could do. Then, my search for the right situation was difficult and long, it took years. But at the end, I found it. Now, I’m very happy about what has taken place”.

DID YOU SECOND-GUESS YOURSELF AT SOME POINT? – “Yes, I had some doubts, even during my last season in Siena when I struggled to gain minutes on the court, then Scafati and even in Roma, there have been seasons when I didn’t have the opportunities I was looking for. With the National Team too. But I secluded myself in the gym, trying to get out of it through hard work. It’s always been my mantra, what helped me to overcome difficulties. Between Roma and with the National team, eventually, I experienced great joys and so I forgot about the hard times”.

WHAT CHANGED IN ROME – “I improved physically, I worked really well on my body, not just on my basketball skills, especially during the summers, even with the National Team. Then I got minutes on the court, and with minutes comes confidence. When you don’t get subbed for a missed shot, you increase your awareness. I felt more responsible, I had a big role, I felt accountable.”

HOW MUCH DID YOU CHANGE SINCE YOU LEFT ITALY? – “It was seven years ago, for an athlete is a long time, a lot of things happen to me, personally. I hope to be a better player and a better person. For sure, I’m richer inside, for the experiences I had, the places I’ve been in, the people that I met. I’m not the same person, my attempt is to be better, but it’s up to the others to judge.”

THE NBA EXPERIENCE – “It’s been crazy, very intense, I was unders scrutiny a lot, I had to stay confident while all around me there was a lot of skepticism about my potential as an NBA player. It was a formative experience, who made me stronger. Fortunately, I finished it in Boston, where I enjoyed myself, had the chance to stay on the court and feel like an NBA player. To live in that world, for two years, has been huge. I’m happy I got to experience this, despite the frustrations were bigger than the satisfactions. Like I said, I enjoydd myself and to do certain things in Detroit and especially in Boston for a basketball fan like me means a lot.”

HOW WAS FOR A BASKETBALL FAN WEARING THE CELTICS JERSEY? – “It’s cool, it’s cool to have it among my jerseys. When I go home, I always take a look at my old jerseys. The Pistons’ one is cool too, but Boston’s is special, it is still very similar to the historical one, the one who belonged to Larry Bird. Playing for the Celtics, in their arena, living in Boston as Celtics player, which gave me a lot of social advantages, so to speak, it’s been great. To see my family name on that jersey is priceless, it makes the experience worthy to be lived.”

THE FENERBAHCE YEARS – “Most of the affection I got is the result of all the successes we had and also of what we showed on the court. I think, we were a group that made the fans proud of us, of our mentality. We were very close to Fenerbahce in spirit, to Istanbul, to Turkey, many of us remained there, wanted their children to be born there, many of us felt very comfortable there. For me, it hasn’t been easy to conquer the fans. Some of them were a little perplexed in the beginning, since I came to replace Nemanja Bjelica, who was the EuroLeague’s MVP. In truth, I played more as a 3 than as a 4. But over time, I received affection, deep love. Still, as today, fans are texting me, even if I moved. Obviously, it’s been an important chapter in my life, one I’m happy to have experienced.”

THE EXPECTATIONS FOR MILANO – “I have been lucky enough to win a lot of titles during my career, but I never won anything in Italy, at least as a real player. In my resume there’s something that belongs to the Siena years, but I wasn’t an important player. Instead, I’d like to be important in what Milano is going to win. Our goal is to improve our ranking in Europa, like we said, but winning in Italy as a useful player is something that I never experienced and I’d like to add to my career.”

BUILDING A CULTURE IN MILANO – “This is what we were asked to do at Fenerbahce. I believe that many of us are in the right place at the right time, now it’s up to us to come together, work well every day, but the goal is really attracting, motivating. I think there are the right persons, among the coaching staff and right to the players, to create this kind of mentality and improve in the future.”

THE BOOK, HE READS BEFORE THE GAME – “It happens right before the meeting held by the Coach. I want to isolate myself a little bit, trying not to overthink, at that point you know what you need to do. That’s the right time to relax a little, get myself loose and then I close the book and go out other to compete.”