The fallen emperor Alessandro has a rare chance for redemption in Athens
The rise, the fall and the rare chance for redemption. This is the story of Alessandro Gentile and his search to fulfill his destiny for greatness.
The next best thing of Italian basketball was once set to be the next emperor of Milano. Last year he was the ball-hogging renegade who couldn’t win. Just a week ago he was an outcast. Bound from his own team. Now, he is the human face of a Christmas “miracolo” for every Panathinaikos’ fan. Alessandro Gentile holds in his hands something rare in the sports world: a chance for redemption.
The fall of Alexander the Great
Last season Milano was “Gentile’s Team” more than any other team has even been “Someone’s Team”. So how we could find ourselves to his debunking and expulsion? What did lead to the fall of Alessandro Gentile, who once was ment to be the next emperor of Italian basketball?
The last emperor. The “Alexander the Great” of Italian basketball. That was what the future was holding for Alessandro Gentile. His path was already paved. It was wide open like a an “autostrade”. The keys of the modern “palacanestro’s” powerhouse were right into his pocket. The result? “Caso”, as known in Italy. The ultimate destruction movie. It took something more than a few months until the administration of Milano decided to make him pack his bags.
“As of today, Olimpia Milan President, Livio Proli, and Alessandro Gentile mutually agreed on a solution that will allow the player to finish the remaining part of this season in a different club. Olimpia Milan thanks Alessandro for his great contribution and wishes him to find the right path for his expectations and potential. Alessandro Gentile desires to thank from the depth of his heart Mr. Giorgio Armani for giving him the opportunity received during the years spent in his basketball project, the Olimpia organization for the time and the victories and finally all the Olimpia fans for the love they have showed him during his time in Milan”.
He had 1 1/2 year left on his contract, but the italian champions decided to light a “for loan” sign next to his status. Immediately his agent dialed the number of Europe’s richest clubs. No response.
The published articles had more smoke and less fire in them. CSKA, Fenerbahce and Barcelona. The “blaugrana” team didn’t even blink. The Turks weren’t fond of signing a perimeter player who leaned more to “3” and less to any other back-court position. CSKA also didn’t want him, despite the fact that Dimitris Itoudis wanted to sign him, when he first sat on the russian bench two summers back. He — then — wanted the italian scorer, but he had already signed an extension with Milano. He settled for another European on-ball guard, Nando DeColo. And we all know who gained from that decision. Even if the Greek “coach of the year” thought high of Gentile, he couldn’t take the risk in such a turning point in the season.
Signing Gentinle — now — is considered a risk. Why is that? He is a solid scorer. His quality is unquestionable. He has the size, a unique mid-range game and the a one-on-one skill set, that you cannot easily find among European players. But, the last few years he has also something else: a bad reputation. That’s something that pilled-up after his life-style choices, the fights with his coaches and the way he practiced. But, first things first…
From Treviso to the break-out season in Milano
Gentile carried a name and a legacy. His father, Nando, was a national-team player, a feisty guard, who had won the European title with Panathinaikos back in the day. In 2011 he was named “the rising starof the Italian league”. Only a few months in his new 4-year contract — in December of 2011 — he was transferred to Milano, who managed to acquire the Italy’s “next best thing”. The offered him a new 4-year contract that he gladly signed. In 2013–14 he had his break-out season with 11.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.3 assist per game in Euroleague. He won the championship and the MVP title for himself. It was his best year, taking under consideration that he heard his name being picked by the Minesota Timberwolves (they send his rights to Houston after all) in the No53 of the 2014 Draft.
During the same “heated” summer he signed a new 3 years contract with Emporio Armani, that was extended soon enough. The administration decided to offer him a new deal on 2015, making him the king of Milan until 2018. In the mean time Luca Banchi (2013–14) had arrived in the team, that tried to recover from the Sergio Scariolo era, when they had spent a great deal of money, packing the team with many “million dollar” players. When they signed Banchi they decided to turn the page. They let most of the expensive players go and they kept only Keith Langford in this high-paid status. That was for one season and one season only. They had already set their minds into making Gentile as the franchise player. They wanted to built around Gentile and offer him the biggest contract in the roster. As they did.
In his first season Banchi’s Milano was winning. The team became even stronger by getting Daniel Hackett from Siena (sending Haynes, the former player of Panathinaikos, the other way), but fell short right before the Final Four. They were eliminated by the later champion, Maccabi Tel Aviv, but managed to finish strong winning the title. A big deal for a team that was lived for many years in the shadow of Bologna, Treviso and Siena. Next season Langford, Jerrels and Wallace left the team, giving their places to Ragland, Brooks who got the chance to compete in the top level for the first time and to the injury prone Linas Kleiza.
The Italians were again eliminated in the Top-16, although Gentile put up some big numbers: 14.3 points (48% in 2P, 31% in 3P), 3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 11.5 in ranking, all that by playing 27 minutes per game. He was the leading scorer and second in ranking among his teammates in Euroleague. But, the sliding of Milano took place behind closed doors of the local competition. Milano lost the cup and the championship after the upsetting performance of Sassari, with Daniel Hackett becoming the “scapegoat” during the Finals. So, another “clean-up” operation was scheduled in Milano. Luca Banchi paid the price, giving his spot to Jasmin Repesa. They say that Gentile was the one who favored and ultimately picked the experienced coach from Croatia, whom he knew from his playing days in Treviso.
The definition of a “ball-hog”
It was the rise of “Gentile’s Milano”. A team that the Italian super-star had the first and the last thing to say. He hogged the ball, put up big numbers, but didn’t get the wins. Milano was surprisingly eliminated in the regular season of the Euroleague, losing twice to Limoges. Its record was 3–10. Gentile played 6 games, because of an injury. When Gentile was healthy the club’s record was 1–5. When Gentile was out his team finished with 2–2. Milano which was scoring 72 points per game, peaked up its performance by scoring 75, even though the missed their leading scorer of 20 points per game.
The numbers establish the fact that he was a ball hog. He had figures far more bigger than those of other point-guards, who were running an entire team by themselves, such as Malcom Deleany (Lokomotiv), Milos Teosodic (CSKA), Tyrese Rice (Khimki) and Vassilis Spanoulis (Olympiacos).
Points (% of team)
Possessions (% of team)
Shots (% of team)
Scoring/Assists (% of team’s total points)
It’s a complex figure. We try to estimate the points a player is producing (either scoring by himself or creating for his teamates with an assist). We try to estimate the percentage of the assists that count for two points or three points (by comparing the made three point shots to the the attempted field goals).
All the above show the immunity Gentile enjoyed in Milano. It was a team built around a player that acted as he chose. He had the keys of the team and the licence to kill. The result was a team that had a terrible run. They were eliminated from Euroleague. They were eliminated from Eurocup, losing to another Italian team, Trento. They only manager to win the first cup of their recent history (in a final game that Bruno Cerella made the impossible to happen) and later on they conquered the Italian throne, without facing any strong competition. The four best teams of the playoffs were Reggio Emilia (they beat them in the final), Avellino and Venezia.
The shattering glass
“I don’t know. Maybe this was my last game in Milano. Maybe I will play to the NBA next season”. It was something like that, but it summed up everything Alessandro Gentile was thinking after he played the final match of the Italian finals. It was a statement that hit the high ranks of Milano team in the gut. The rumors say that Gentile lost any bridge of communication with the former general manager and now president of the club, Livio Prolli and had a head-to-head clash with Jasmin Repesa. The coach he had bring in Milano as a personal choice.
Following the direction of conflict the administration decided to take away from him the captaincy. They gave the invisible captain’s arm-band to Andrea Cinciarini, the 30-years-old national team guard who had only played there for one season. The message was already sent towards Gentile’s direction. At the same time his playing role had changed in a dramatic fashion: from last season’s impunity he found himself 22 minutes on the floor (30 last season) and scoring only 10.8 points (shooting 9.2 field goals, while last season he shot 16 per game). Repesa was pushing him all the time in order to play for the team, because he thought that his star player was chasing a good stat line in order to live the american dream as often the NBA is called.
And that’s how we heard about the official statement leading to the loan of their best and most high-paid player.
Outside the court
Gentile was something like the Balotelli of basketball. People weren’t talking only about the amazing thing he did on the court, but also for the way he acted outside the four lines. For anyone who wants to party in Italy, Milano is the right place to do it. The administration was furious with his lifestyle and his inconsistencyin practice, where he often was found in bad shape. In these cases you don’t have to do much to get a bad name of yourself. This kind of news run fast. An they did. Like the occasion during the pre-Olympic Tournament last summer in Torino, where the hosts were eliminated by Croatia, letting the ticket to the Olympic Games of Rio slip through their fingertips.
In that tournament Gentile had 14.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists. As did the other he failed to redeem the Italian “dream team” and lead them towards the road of success. The Italians had a roster full of NBA and Euroleague stars (Belinelli, Bargnagni, Gallinari, Datome, Gentile, Hackett), but constantly fail to have a good summer run for many years now, just because they lack the chemistry and they have more “egos” than a squad can bear.
The incident that tarnished his reputation happened off the court the night before the final game and acted like a punch in the face of “squadra azzurra”. Thing got worse when the player former known as “Alexander the Great” fell short with 6 points (shooting 3 for 8) and 5 turnovers, making some wrong decisions in the crucial moments of the game.
The essense of the matter is that one of the most talented European players had Italian basketball on his feet and blew it. He was the top name, the captain, the super-star. All gone now. He was the one to destroy everything that the team tried to built around him. Now, he is looking for his next team. He will play there as a loan from Milano and reset his career.
- The story was first published (in Greek) in Sport24.gr.
Update (14/12): Exileosi is Greek for redemption
Do you believe in destiny? When Alessandro was 7 years old, in 1999–2000 season, he was chasing a basketball in OAKA. His father, Nando, was playing for Panathinaikos, alongside with legends like Dino Radja, Dejan Bodiroga and Fragkiskos Alvertis. “Ale” alongside with his older brother, Stefano, used to chase each other or just a bouncing basketball in the Athenian basketball court. In 2016 he will find himself wearing the same jersey his father wore. The only difference? The lefty feisty guard from Caserta helped “Pana” to put the second star, that represents european titles. Now, the jersey that his son will be put over his shoulders numbers six.
This is not the only difference. Nando was a veteran. Alessandro is just 24, but already have managed to make a great fuss around his name. For all the good and the bad reasons. And now — once again — Athens is the right place for the Gentiles.
Panathinaikos needed Gentile, as Gentile needed Panathinaikos. The “Greens” were looking for an back-court add-on. They hit the market in the early days of Xavi Pascual, who had players like Marko Popovic on his list. They decided to wait for the return of the injured Mike James and utterly putting the matter into the back seat, when they lost James Gist and searched for a power-forward instead (they found Kenny Gabriel).
It was obvious that they needed something else. Another perimeter player to unload the burden from Nick Calathes’s shoulders. A role that was assigned to Mike James right after his return. He was the only true on-ball guard that could create for others and himself, something that Calathes cannot do without night in and night out, because of the instability of his off-the-dribble shooting. The other solution was another Balotelli-sque kind of player, Nikos Pappas, who once again was fallen in the end of the bench. That’s because KC Rivers and James Feldeine aren’t this kind of players. They are both tweeners, trapped between the “2” and the “3”. Average ball-handlers and 1on1 players who have neither the play-making skills, or the size to play solid minutes at the small-forward spot.
So, Gentile can bring a lot to the table. He has the size that allows him to switch with each, as Panathinaikos tend to do on pick-n-rolls. He can push-around his opponents in iso situations or the post. He can shoot of the dribble, especially from mid range. He can create scoring opportunities for himself. And he might be the closer that the “Greens” desperately need, as shown in the bunch of games they have lost in the last play. They only way they have won edgy match-ups were when they scored with an offensive rebound.
In order to do so coach Pascual has to find the number of possessions to give his new player. It’s true that the Catalan coach wanted an addition. He is a kind of coach that cherishes talent and doesn’t follow the principal of “less is more”, like Trincheri for example. He wants big rotations and deep rosters. So for him Gentile was a no-brainer. The coin that he flipped had “talent” on one side and “character” on the other. So “talent” it is.
The Greek Book of Basketball has many tales of “troublemakers” who found their Ithaca in strange places. Like Joey Dorsey who transformed Olympiacos in a European champion back in 2012. Like Bouroussis who was a member of All-Euroleague Team when he was loaned from Real Madrid to Baskonia. Like James Gist who had a bad name before coming to Athens and now is considered one of the fans’ favorites and is set to break the records of Mike Batist in Panathinaikos. Like another Italian, Daniel Hacket, who was the “black sheep” for Milano and reset his career in Olympiacos. Nobody has heard even one complaint with his name in the same sentence.
So, nobody can be sure. Many times before a different environment creates different effect to players. Maybe the story with Milano was something like a wake-up call for Gentile. Maybe he can flourish away from his “home”, from “his” team, now that nothing is taken for granted.
If Panathinaikos is like a big puzzle, missing several parts in the middle, Gentile is one massive piece that can either fill the gap, or make an entire mess. Time will tell.