By Daniele Veechi

They call it “The Basket City”. More than Milan, more than Rome, more than Treviso, more than all the other cities in the country, Bologna is the real italian’s Basket City. The basketball passion you can breeze in those neighbour is something really special. Marco Belinelli, 18th pick at the First Round of the 2007 NBA Draft, is born (1986) in the Bologna suburbs (San Giovanni in Persiceto), and has spent all his basketball life in the city, feeling on his own skin all the passionate rivalry between the two teams of the city, Virtus and Fortitudo, both always (more or less) at the top of the Italian League and sometimes of the Euroleague, and both touched by the amazing talent of Marco Belinelli.

A 6’5”, guard/small forward with long long arms and slim body, Belinelli is rooted in strong fundamentals, great three points shooter (very fast movement releasing the shot), solid in-between game, rebounder, going straight to the rim. He has a very aggressive approach to the game, he’s a natural born leader, a confident player with great intelligence for the game.
Belinelli grew up in the Virtus organization, learning from great players like Manu Ginobili (still his favourite player). He made his debut in the Italian League at the age of sixteen. Unfortunately, after the 2003 season, Virtus had some organization troubles and were forced into bankruptcy. They also received a the temporary demotion into the Italian second division. Because of these troubles, Virtus gave his prospect Belinelli (he was seventeen years old) to Fortitudo (Virtus fans are still bleeding!), gaving him the opportunity to play at the higher level in Italy and Europe. In fact in the 2004/05 season Belinelli lead Fortitudo to the Italian League Title with some impressive performances during the playoffs.

Belinelli continued to improve and in 2006 he had some impressive games with the Italian National Team in the World Championship in Japan. He scored 25 points versus the United States (Marco made a scary jam on Carmelo Anthony’s face, and one), and 26 points vs. Slovenia, with a final average of 13.5 points per game, being one of the best players of the tournament.

Ok, great stuff, but everybody said that it was “only” FIBA basketball, now he’s been chosen by the NBA, and he has still to demonstrate ewhat he can do against the world’s best talent. Flying to Vegas to see the Golden State Warriors Summer League, no one would have imagined the explosion of Belinelli. On July 8th, in his first game with the Warriors (the night before Greg Oden and Kevin Durant have made some anonymous debuts), Marco makes his move: 40 minutes, 14/20 from the field (nine baskets in a row, including five three pointer), 5/7 from the three points line, 37 total points (Golden State Warriors-New Orleans Hornets 110-102), shy just one point from the Summer League record (Keith Bogans, 38 points with the Orlando Magic in 2004), making an unforgettable show in a normal summer night in Nevada. He finished the tournament in Vegas averaging 22.8 points per game, being the lion in the Summer League arena, making his coach, Don Nelson, happy.

Last September Marco was the top scorer of the Italian National Team in the European Championship in Spain, averaging 15.5 points per game and he played the last game against Germany with a sprained ankle. Being the last die-hard of The Azzurri in the loss to Dirk Nowitzki’s Team, who kicked eliminated Italy from the tournament. But what could be the Belinelli role in this Golden State Warriors, who seems to be a contender at least for the playoffs? What could be the feeling and the chemistry in the locker room, with a natural born leader Baron Davis and an italian rookie natural born leader who has all to prove in The League? Marco has to do his job, has to respect everybody, work hard and learn from teammates and coaches, and he has to wait for his moment.

In an Italian sportswear commercial during last summer, on a playground Andrea Bargnani talked to Marco Belinelli about the NBA and about his experience as a rookie in The League. While Belinelli was nailing several three pointers in a row, he doesn’t seem to care about the words of Bargnani, who finish the monologue with these words, stopping the hands of Belinelli: “ma soprattutto, DEVI ASCOLTARE”, “above all, you HAVE TO LISTEN”. And this is true.

DANIELE VEECHI is an Italian journalist and the author of “Playground in New York,” an Italian-language text about streetball in NYC. He is also a columnist for American Superbasket. This is his first published English story.