Despite calcio’s cultural dominance, the sport of basketball is thriving in Florence, thanks to the efforts of Everlast-Mabo Firenze, the city’s Serie B-1 professional team, and to programs like MiniBasket Reggello. The team has quietly moved up to sixth place in B-1 / Group B. With two games remaining, the team seems poised to enter the playoffs and is clearly looking forward to the future, keeping a steady eye on a difficult jump to Lega 2. The addition this year of Serie A veterans like Alessandro Abbio (two-time European champion), Max Monti, and Federico Bolzonella to an already talented group demonstrates management’s commitment to a B-1 championship and a leap to the next highest division. (In Italy, professional basketball is played in Serie A, followed by Lega 2, Serie B-1, and B-2.)
But Everlast is not focused only on acquiring established stars. The club also sponsors an Under 21 team and an Under 20 team. The Under 21 squad is currently ranked second in its division. More than 1,500 fans routinely support Everlast during home games on Sunday nights at 6 pm at the Mandela Forum. Together with passionate drum-banging and flag-waving, Gruppo Guelfo supporters, young families, and seasoned fans cheer knowledgeably for their heroes. The tickets are inexpensive and the atmosphere is positive. Tickets are also given away every Friday at 4:45 pm on Radio Tuscany 95.4.
Ask any Italian basketball player or fan, young or old who the most important Italian giocatore is today and you will invariably hear ‘Andrea Bagnani’. He has played an essential role in securing basketball’s newfound popularity among Italians. Not only the first Italian, but the first European to be drafted number one in the NBA, Bagnani has represented his country well. He was named ‘rookie of the month’ for January and February and ranks among the top three rookies in the league. Importantly, his new team, the Toronto Raptors, is also atop its division and seems playoff-bound.
From the professional ranks to the schoolyard, fundamentals have always been paramount to the Italian—and European—style of basketball. Although coaches like Everlast’s Cadeo emphasize more of an up-tempo style of play that focuses on the fast-break and the full-court press, Serie B is still mainly played ‘below the rim’. This type of game rewards quick, crisp and accurate passing, well-set picks, and tough defense.
However, more and more programs geared to introducing children to the game are encouraging improvisation first, waiting to introduce mechanics later. MiniBasket Reggello is a prime example of this philosophy, and the tactic appears to be working. Emiliano Santonio is the starting center for Reggello Basket, a C-2 team, currently in first place in its division. He is also the Director of the Regello MiniBasket Center, for kids ages 5–12. Two nights a week, Santonio, after working at his full-time public relations job in Arezzo, joins a group of 5- and 6-year-olds, who go through the paces of their practice with enthusiasm. During a recent evening, 10 very small boys, and their very tall coach worked together on dribbling and passing drills. Santonio explained: ‘If you let them have fun, they really learn a lot’. At the end of the day, whether it be soccer, or basketball, whether we’re on the court, or in the stands, we should all be as lucky as the kids in Reggello.