Italy's Datome ready to make leap
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia -- Luigi Datome says he's ready to be a key cog in the Detroit Pistons' rebuilding project after measuring himself against several future NBA opponents during the EuroBasket tournament in Slovenia.
The 6-foot-8 Italian forward signed as a free agent in Motown earlier this summer, agreeing to a two-year deal worth a reported $3.5 million after ending a five-season stint with Virtus Roma.
The reigning MVP of Italy's Serie A, Datome has been the country's most consistent performer during its surprise run through the European Championships, with the next stop coming against Lithuania in Thursday's quarterfinal. In eight games, Datome has averaged 14.0 points and 5.5 rebounds and has largely outshone teammate Marco Belinelli.
Later this month, the 25-year-old will pack his bags for a new life in the United States. With new coach Maurice Cheeks tasked with rejuvenating the Pistons, Datome's summer play shouldn't hurt his hopes of immediate court time.
"For sure, [EuroBasket] is helping me because this is a great experience," Datome told ESPN.com. "I took a lot of confidence from the past season with Roma, but this is a higher level. And everybody can see what happens when you compete with great players and great teams. It gives you more confidence.
"I don't know where I'll fit in Detroit. I'll go there and find a new role in a new league for me. I'll bring all my passion for the game and try and contribute to the team. I'll put myself at the disposal of the coach and staff to try and find my place. It will be a different world, but I think basketball is still basketball wherever you go."
However, Michigan is not Rome, and the NBA lifestyle is a little more frantic than that of Serie A. That has been the wisdom shared by Belinelli, who is about to enter his sixth NBA season as a new member of the San Antonio Spurs.
"[Belinelli has] helped with advice on the things off the court -- like how to find a house, what I should do when I arrive," Datome said.
On the court, Datome figures to help fill the void left by Tayshaun Prince's midseason departure, providing offensive help and defensive smarts on the perimeter.
Datome may, like many European imports, need an acclimatization period. Belinelli has few doubts whether his compatriot can make the leap.
"He's really good," Belinelli said. "Everybody knows the NBA is very different from playing in Italy. But I think 'Gigi' is a great talent. He has the mentality to improve his game. He has great belief. I think he's the kind of guy who will go in every day to work and adjust.
"And the good thing for him is that he has the possibility to play from the start because he's in a team in the middle, rather than one that's immediately going for the championship. [Detroit] will look to do something big in two, three, four years, which will be good for him."
Perhaps, by then, Datome and Belinelli will be European champions. Italy will be heavy underdogs against Lithuania on Thursday, but in a tournament of shocks, it has lost just twice with coach Simone Pianigiani constructing a versatile lineup.
"Everybody said that we would come here and go out in the first round," Datome said. "Now we are in the quarterfinals and it's win or go home. Anything can happen."
Datome is the fourth member of the Azzurri-in-exile, joining Belinelli, the New York Knicks' Andrea Bargnani and the Denver Nuggets' Danilo Gallinari, who are both absent from the Italians' 2013 Euro bid. It will be an adventure in the NBA, Datome said, something he never anticipated would arise when he originally went undrafted.
"I think I'm ready for this move in my career, at this age," Datome said. "It will be difficult, for sure, but I'm confident. I know bad moments are going to come, but I will face them with a smile."