Team USA won a recruiting battle this week, securing the commitment of current NBA Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero to play in this summer’s FIBA World Cup, sources confirmed to ESPN. The Orlando Magic star was previously verbally committed to playing for Italy.
Once a player selects a national team to play for, they can’t switch. It raises the stakes for this decision, especially in an era of higher competition on the world basketball stage that is expected to show at the World Cup in August in Manila, Philippines.
One of the biggest dramas in international basketball, for example, will play out in the coming months as current Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid considers whether he will play in the 2024 Paris Olympics. Both the U.S. and France — Embiid holds citizenship in both and hasn’t yet picked — have quietly made pitches to try to secure him for the Olympics. Embiid is not playing in the World Cup this summer because he’s getting married in July.
Team USA coach Steve Kerr, managing director Grant Hill and general manager Sean Ford were able to close the deal with Banchero, 20, after months of work. The Italian Basketball Federation had been recruiting Banchero since he was 16 and helped him get a passport in 2020, clearing the way for him to join the team.
Banchero’s father is of Italian heritage, and when Team USA didn’t show him much attention in his teen years, Banchero said in interviews he was prepared to play for Team Italy in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But the COVID-19 pandemic prevented it and left his path to play for Team USA open.
It didn’t hurt that Banchero played strongly in front of Kerr during his rookie year, twice leading the Magic to victories over Kerr’s Golden State Warriors and averaging 23.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3 assists in the two games.
Banchero’s mother, Rhonda Smith-Banchero, was involved with USA Basketball during her playing career — she was a star at the University of Washington — and that played a role in his decision, sources said.
At 6-foot-10 with point guard skills, Banchero is an ideal fit for the international game, where size on the perimeter is very useful. He isn’t a standout 3-point shooter, which is less detrimental with the shorter 3-point line, but Italy is a potential opponent in the quarterfinals of the World Cup and the Americans much prefer to have Banchero on their side in that potential meeting.
Size is clearly a focal point for the roster, which is expected to include current Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr., All-Rookie selection Walker Kessler and veteran big man Bobby Portis. Guards Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton, Jalen Brunson and Austin Reaves are expected to be joined by forwards Brandon Ingram, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson.
The Athletic first reported Banchero’s commitment.