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MANILA, Philippines – Simone Fontecchio was the man of the hour for all the right reasons on Friday, September 1, as Italy stunned Serbia in the 2023 FIBA World Cup second round with a 78-76 escape from down 16 in the third quarter.
The Utah Jazz rising star, held to sub-30% shooting in his last two games, went absolutely berserk with a 30-point explosion on 11-of-15 shooting to go with 7 rebounds and 3 assists.
Fontecchio, however, did not see himself as the game’s hero despite producing more than a third of Italy’s offensive output.
Instead, the 27-year-old forward handed that honor to team captain Luigi Datome, who helped spark a second-half comeback with a personal 10-0 run just when hopes were starting to wane. Italy cut a 51-62 deficit to just one, 61-62, early in the fourth quarter.
“Gigi is just a legend, simply a legend. What he did today was just a little cherry on the top of his career, you know? It was something unbelievable,” Fontecchio said of the 35-year-old Datome, who ended the night with just those 10 points in a brief 13-minute run off the bench.
When Datome sat out with about seven minutes left in the payoff period, Fontecchio picked up right where the wily veteran left off and scored 8 of Italy’s last 13 points, doing just enough to edge Serbia for the all-important win ahead of a possible quarterfinal berth.
“He showed us the way. Down 16, no matter what, he kept playing. How old is he, 37, 36, 35? He was just simply amazing, just leading by example. He’s our captain, he’s our leader, he’s just the best teammate you could imagine,” Fontecchio continued.
“[He] really pushed us to find that last energy in our body to make the comeback.”
Most of the time, team captains are not the best players on even the best teams, but are nonetheless crucial glue guys who remind the other players of their full capabilities, especially under pressure.
Datome’s NBA-caliber prime is well past him at this point, but the instincts clearly remain the same, and that’s really all Italy needs from him to go far in the World Cup. – Rappler.com