Denver Nuggets F Danilo Gallinari takes lead role at NBA event in Italy

by Aaron Lopez

Improvement during the NBA offseason goes well beyond jump shots, pick-up games and weight lifting.

Leadership training can be invaluable as well.

Eleven years after attending an NBA Basketball Without Borders event as a lanky teenage hoops prospect in his native Italy, Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari is sharing his knowledge and expertise with the next generation of European players.

Gallinari and Nuggets assistant coach Melvin Hunt are part of the BWB instructional staff this week in Rome. Hunt has been impressed with Gallinari’s teaching ability while working with 50 of the top 16- and 17-year-old players in Europe.

“It’s exciting to me to watch him be a leader and watch him interact with the kids and the other coaches and some of the higher ranking people in Italian basketball,” Hunt said of Gallinari. “He looks like the Gallo we all think he can be. It’s fun watching him lead.”

Gallinari, 25, took part in Basketball Without Borders Europe in Treviso, Italy, in 2003. He was drafted by the New York Knicks five years later, and his popularity in Italy has been on the rise ever since.

“We’re not near his home city and he’s a celebrity,” Hunt said. “He’s a rock star. He’s recognized everywhere. The little kids are going crazy. Every time he speaks at the camp, they’re hanging on every word. He’s definitely well-respected and well received here.”

Nuggets fans also have made Gallinari one of the team’s most popular players since he arrived in Denver in 2011. They undoubtedly are looking forward to seeing him back on the court next season after he missed 2013-14 while recovering from a torn ACL.

The coaching staff is excited as well; he was Denver’s second-leading scorer and its leading 3-point shooter in 2012-13.

“As his confidence goes up, he’s more and more comfortable in that (leadership) role,” Hunt said. “With our team, that would be a good place for him – a confident leader capable of making plays and shouldering the burden. He looks ready.”

Gallinari was cleared last month for all basketball-related activities, and he plans to spend some time this summer working with the Italian national team. Until then, he is embracing his role as a mentor for young players who share his NBA dream.

“It’s special because Basketball Without Borders was born in Italy,” he said. “Time goes pretty fast. I’m getting old. To come back as a player and be able to coach these young guys is a great opportunity.”

In addition to Gallinari, the BWB Europe staff included Knicks big man Andrea Bargnani, Detroit Pistons forward Gigi Datome, Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Knight and Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford.

The camp runs through Thursday.