NEW YORK, March 21, 2007 -- He was just 17 when he left home to play for Treviso. This season, Andrea Bargnani, now a wisened 21, has crossed the pond and helped the Toronto Raptors lay claim to first place in the Atlantic Division and is a leading candidate for the Rookie of the Year.

Simone Sandri, co-host of NBA TV's Basketball International caught up with Bargnani earlier this week to talk about the Raptors, the Italian National Team and the Rookie of the Year race. This all happened before Il Mago's appendectomy on Wednesday. No return has been set for Bargnani. We hope he gets well soon.

While Bargnani recovers, you can read what he had to say in this NBA.com interview.


Sandri

NBA.com: You had your first interview on an American television on NBA TV after the Hoop Summit in 2004, I guess since then your life has changed dramaticallyÖ

Andrea Bargnani: Of course. I was very young then, and now I am obviously more mature. I remember that game very well, the Americans were much better than us and they just crushed us. It was my first year in Treviso; I spent two more years there before coming to the States.

Ettore Messina was instrumental in my growth as a player and as a person. David Blatt who was my coach in Treviso last year was also very important. I got more playing time and developed into an important part of the team that won the Italian League.

NBA.com: How do you deal with your new celebrity status? Last year even though you did very well in Treviso, not many people recognized you on the street. This year I'm sure things are much different.

Andrea Bargnani: Well I donít know about being a celebrity. Obviously we are recognized in Toronto especially for the fact that we are doing really well right now. I personally donít go out a lot because I donít have a lot of free time. Iíll be honest with you, I still get surprised when people recognize me on the street.

I think it's cool. I like it.

NBA.com: Was it more difficult to leave home at 17 and go to Treviso or to cross the Atlantic and move to Toronto?

Andrea Bargnani: It was more difficult going to Treviso, no question about that. I was a kid and it was my first time away from home.

NBA.com: How difficult was your last year in Treviso? Most people expected you to be a lottery pick. How much pressure did that add to your season?

Andrea Bargnani: It wasnít easy. You have to deal with the scouts and also with the reporters always asking you the same questions. But at the end of the day it was a great thing, I certainly canít complain.

NBA.com: In the U.S. a big time NBA prospect at 18 or 19 usually is being treated with the ultimate respect by his high school and college teammates. In Europe it was very different; you were a young player and your teammates made sure that you didnít get a big head and also they didnít like all the attention you very receiving.

Andrea Bargnani: I actually had to work harder than everyone else also because of the constant presence of NBA scouts at our practices. That didnít make coach Messina or my teammates very happy. For sure, nobody rolled out the red carpet for me, but it did help me to maintain my level of concentration at all times.

NBA.com: Not many people know that your nickname, Il Mago (The Magician) was given to you by former Benetton captain Riccardo Pittis, and that really wasnít basketball related. Can you tell me the story surrounding that nickname?

Andrea Bargnani: Yes Riccardo one day started call me "Mago" Bargnani just because he like the way it sounded. Then the nickname was carried onto the basketball floor.

NBA.com: In Treviso you wore number 11, but when you arrived in Toronto you left it for T.J. Ford and decided to wear number 7. Now at the European Championship in Spain with the Italian National Team you will leave the 7 to Matteo Soragna and go back to number 11. Are you doing it because you want to do the right thing with the veterans or because you don't care so much about what number you wear?

Andrea Bargnani: No I actually care a lot about the number I wear. I left the 11 to T.J. in Toronto because I really liked number 7. It was the number that I played with when I was a kid and it also has a special meaning because it was the number that my uncle, [Massimo Balducci who played in the Italian First Division] used to wear.

But on the National Team the reality is that it's not that I leave number 7 to Matteo Soragna, it's always been his number. So I have to get another one, and I will get 11. It's as simple as that.

NBA.com: Talk about the Italian National Team, after missing the World Championship last Summer you decided to participate in the European Championship in Spain.

Andrea Bargnani: It will be very exiting. I am very happy to be with the national team at the European Championship in Spain. It will be my first real experience with that group and I'm very exited about that. I'm sure it will be great.

NBA.com: After being selected number one overall in the draft, another Italian will likely go very quickly in the draft. It must be great for Italian basketball?

Andrea Bargnani: Yes. I was proud of the fact that I was the first one. There are a lot of good, young Italian players out there, so it is not surprising that there are Italian NBA prospects.

NBA.com: To win the MVP award your team much achieve some level of success. Yet when it comes to the Rookie of the Year award statistics are usually what count the most. Do you think the voters should consider the success of the team more when voting for the Rookie of the Year?

Andrea Bargnani: It is a good question. Personally, I think that the success of the team should definitely count, but obviously the numbers are important as well.

For me it would be great to win the Rookie of the Year award, but honestly it won't be easy. Brandon Roy for example, is doing really well; he has great stats and is also playing more minutes than myself.

NBA.com: You started the season slowly, but then things seemed to turn around in a hurry. Do you think the turning point occurred in Utah on November 20 when you started playing big minutes, or what about in Orlando on December 13 when you scored 23 points?

Andrea Bargnani: It was definitely against Utah when I started playing more. Obviously when you are not playing much you canít be happy. It took a while for coach Mitchell to give me good minutes on the floor, but the way things turned out it was the right move.

NBA.com: When in Treviso you played with Jorge Garbajosa who you really looked up to. How important has been for you during your transition into the NBA?

Andrea Bargnani: He's been very important. He's a great person and he is helping me very much. Also he speaks perfect Italian so it really helps having a teammate who speaks your language.

With Rick Kamla, Simone Sandri is co-host of NBA TV's Basketball International, which airs at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays. It is the only live studio show focused on international basketball that includes exclusive interviews with players, coaches and experts, plus game highlights and weekly features on emerging players from around the world.