His early days seem so remote now, almost as if they belong to another player. ‘I started really young’, Aradori recalls, ‘I was just a kid playing all kinds of sports: soccer, obviously, but also swimming and skiing. Then I fell in love watching Kobe Bryant and that was it’. Pietro began playing in Team 75, a club his father, a genuine hoop fanatic, had created in Lograto, a tiny town in the north side of the country, not far from Brescia. Sweating within the walls of a small gym, trying to emulate Kobe (and Tracy McGrady, another of Aradori’s favorites) while learning the fundamentals of the game, Pietro began a journey that took him all around Italy and Europe, only to get back home on a cold and foggy November night. Serving as Italy’s captain in the crucial win against Lithuania in FIBAWC Qualifying on the hardwood of the brand new PalaLeonessa in Brescia, Pietro lived a moment he will never forget.‘It felt almost like a dream come true, playing with the national team in my hometown and being the captain was something I dreamed about since I started launching shots in that old gym way back in Lograto’. The dream of leading the azzurri to the World Cup, though, was not granted to Aradori, he earned it. ‘I worked so hard to get where I am right now, spending almost every summer of the last 15 years playing through all the youth academies and whatnot’. There’s no need to explain why Pietro is so proud of his achievements with Italy, especially because the path that led him here has not always been paved with fulfillment. ‘Eurobasket 2017, the defeat against Serbia in the quarterfinals was brutal, but we all felt like our disadvantage in terms of length and physicality was insurmountable’. The real blow had come a year before in Turin, where the azzurri suffered an overtime loss to Croatia, which cost them the chance to travel to the Rio Olympics. ‘That was bitter for sure’, Aradori remembers the disappointment as he walked out of the PalaIsozaki, recalling ‘it was the toughest moment of my career with the national team’. Nonetheless, Pietro believes that his best days in azzurro are still ahead of him. ‘People treat me like I’m veteran, which I am in many ways, but I started really young and I still have a lot to accomplish’. Having just stepped into his thirties, Aradori is definitely entitled to claim his rights to a promising future, because the last two years have seen Italy cruise through the qualifying rounds with a compelling, yet composed pace. ‘It’s been interesting, due to the distance between each window of games and the different set of players on call from time to time, but Coach Sacchetti’s done a great job by including a bunch of guys who barely had a chance to play, up to that point, and by giving them a real opportunity to make a contribution’. The next chapter of this story will take place in China, where Italy will need all the championship experience available to feed the dream of snatching up a medal. Aradori can provide that for sure, for that’s where his recent glory with Segafredo Virtus Bologna comes in handy. ‘It’s been an overwhelming sensation, the BCL final four weekend is another memory I will take with me for life’. Again, the triumph over Iberostar Tenerife was the successful landing after a troubled flight. ‘This last year has been a tricky one and halfway through the season it looked like we were headed towards a huge bust’. A change in the head coaching role and some roster adjustments later, and the team went on a roll that ended with a historic result. ‘It’s still hard to believe that our names will be written in Virtus Bologna’s history forever’. Ten years after its last major trophy, the club and its many fans finally had a reason to celebrate.‘It was great to get that winning feeling once again. I mean: I want to win every single time I step on to the court, but it’s really hard, especially at a Champions League level’. Aradori knows what he’s talking about, given his long resume filled with Euroleague competition amongst his seasons with Siena and Cantù. ‘The Champions League has gotten better and tougher every year, it’s now a grind to get to the end of it’. Pietro Aradori just had a career-defining season, now he’s ready to take it up a notch for his national team.It’s hard to establish what makes for a ‘defining season’, especially given the way basketball works nowadays: a twelve month, non-stop, worldwide rollercoaster. Looking back at Pietro Aradori’s latest campaign, the label seems appropriate. After all, resilience and self-confidence have carried Aradori throughout his career, ‘if I hadn’t worked as hard as I had, practicing my skills and pursuing my goals, I would’ve never gotten even near to where I am at right now’. Amongst his all time heroes, he mentions Marco Pantani and Jonah Lomu, both icons of endurance and inner strength who encountered a premature death. The All Black legend’s autobiography is a regular presence on Aradori’s nightstand and will travel with him to China. On the other hand, Bomber, his french bulldog, another regular presence in his life and a lucky charm for Italy’s captain, will stay home. ‘I will provide him with an azzurri headband and rely on his support in front of the TV screen’, says Aradori, probably only half-joking. So while Bomber will be barking at the moving picture of his best friend from somewhere in Italy, Pietro will be in Foshan and elsewhere in China doing what he’s been doing since he was just a little kid: playing ball. https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/d8/f1/aradori-gallinari-belinelli-fiba-italy_1w8wtirggukjm1xlrp86ygxg1k.jpg?t=-1901815509&w=500&quality=80 As the competition evolved, so did the game of basketball, and Aradori managed to keep up with it. ‘I feel like I’m a better, more skilled, all-around player right now. A few years ago I was focused on scoring, especially in my breakout season with Biella, where I was the team’s first option on offense’. Things have changed when Pietro embraced the challenge of playing at the higher level: ‘when you find yourself amongst very deep, very talented teams you have to give up some of your minutes and shots, forget about your box-score and highlights in order to blend into the overall chemistry’. And that’s what Aradori has done in the latest part of his career, becoming a reliable three-point shooter (39,1% from the deep in Legabasket) and an overlooked rebounder (3,9 rebounds per game in Legabasket, a substantial result for a guard of his size). Pietro earned his reputation by perpetually scoring in double digits, but these days he’s inclined to do whatever it takes to help his team win, even if it means sacrificing shots and diving to recover loose balls. But make no mistake, while more than willing to jump sideways for a hustle play, Aradori is not afraid to look straight at the rim and step up in crucial moments. An avid consumer of crime fiction, when asked to solve the hypothetical mysterious case of who’s more likely to take the final shot with the game on the line in the upcoming World Cup, Pietro gives a clear answer: ‘if I had the ball, I would probably pass it to Marco (Belinelli) or Danilo (Gallinari)’, then, after a brief moment of silence, he clarifies ‘that would mean that I’m doubled by the defense, on one foot, back to the basket, otherwise I’m taking that shot!’. https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/1d/9/pietro-aradori-italy-fiba_ri8te1tak37c1i2ftlvsk75t2.jpg?t=-1902211037&w=500&quality=80 https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/a3/5d/bcl-bologna-fiba_1k2z9bokyjh651jrdd08h7zgft.jpg?t=-1901965509&w=500&quality=80 A linchpin for Italy’s national team, Aradori helped the azzurri make their way back to the FIBA Basketball World Cup after 13 years, while also leading Segafredo Virtus Bologna to a stunning victory in the Basketball Champions League. Despite being ‘only’ 30 years old, Aradori has the experience of someone far older: 14 seasons in 12 different teams as a professional player and more than 200 games with Italy’s national teams.