Jul 3, 2020 1:43 PM ET
Danilo Gallinari has always brought a unique perspective to the Thunder roster. As one of the lone veterans on the team, he provides a grounding level of professional on-court experience to his younger teammates. When COVID-19 began to spread in the United States, Gallinari had already been keeping tabs on its path for weeks and was well aware of its severity as a native of Northern Italy – a region greatly affected by the coronavirus before the US. And now, even as the NBA begins its unprecedented plan to restart the season in Walt Disney World next week, it’s a situation that’s not entirely foreign to the Thunder’s power forward.
Since he was 14 years old, Gallinari has spent every summer with the Italian National Team. It has become a routine he’s pretty accustomed to at this point: live in a hotel with your team, eat with your team and play basketball. Everyone dresses the same and life revolves around games and practices. No distractions, just basketball.
“That kind of environment is going to be pretty similar to this one,” said Gallinari. “I’m used to it.”
Gallinari is not alone in this experience. Thunder point guards Dennis Schröder and Chris Paul have similar backgrounds to Gallinari in this regard since both have played for their respective national teams– Schröder for Germany and Paul for the USA.
Last summer, both Gallinari and Schröder competed in the FIBA World Cup tournament held in China. The entire tournament lasted for 16 days with 32 teams participating and Gallinari averaged 17 points during Italy's five games while Schröder averaged 19.6 points for the German team. Similar to Gallinari, Schröder’s tenure with the German national team spans longer than his NBA career with his first FIBA appearance in 2012 and four appearances since then.
For Paul, it was the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2012 Olympics in London where he got a taste of playing basketball in a vacuum. Staying in the Olympic Village bears significant similarities to the NBA’s arrangements in Walt Disney World with its separation from the outside world and strict exclusivity. As a reminder of those two Olympic experiences, Paul now holds two gold medals.
Thanks to his near two decades of experience in these situations, Gallinari explained why he believes his teammates will be able to adjust easily to the strange new environment in Walt Disney World. “I think that at the beginning (Paul and I) can help as leaders of this team but at the end of the day since we’re going to be playing basketball, I think everybody is going to adjust right away,” said Gallinari.
“The good thing is we’re not going to have a lot of distractions. It’s really going to be only be about basketball and getting ready for practicing and playing so many games that everybody, after a little bit, is going to adjust and it’s going to be second nature.”
Gallinari’s confidence in his teammates’ ability to adjust is well justified.This team wants to play
. Even before the team’s mandatory workouts began on Monday, every single player took the opportunity to work out in the Thunder ION on a voluntary basis. The same competitive nature of the team thatdefeated Boston on the road in the final moments in March
, is the same team who couldn’t wait to get back into the gym to play again.
During the entire hiatus, Gallinari remained in Oklahoma City. If he would’ve returned to his native country of Italy, he said he wouldn’t have been able to walk around outside of his home, an activity he has thoroughly enjoyed during the break. Once the practice facility opened up, he was able to come in Monday through Friday for individual strength and basketball workouts.
Even then, as Gallinari pointed out, there’s no workout that can truly simulate NBA game play. This is the one looming question mark that Gallinari doesn’t have the answer to yet. It’s the same question that all 22 teams are facing – what will it look like to play 5-on-5 after four months without a game?
“The most difficult part is going to be getting back into game shape because we can practice and do individual workouts as much as we want but it’s never going to be like a game,” said Gallinari.
That work can now begin as the Thunder arrived in Orlando on Wednesday. It will soon start its mini training camp which includes three fine-tuning scrimmages against Boston, Philadelphia and Portland before the first official seeding game against the Utah Jazz on August 1. As far as Gallinari sees it, these scrimmages will be critical before getting into game play.
“They’re going to be even more important than the scrimmages that we do in the regular season,” said Gallinari. “We're not going to have a lot of time to get ready. So to be ready, we need to use the time that we’ve got. Once we get into the regular season and playoffs, nobody is going to give you anything or nothing is going to be for granted. We need to get ready with those scrimmages.”
As for the cerebral part of the game, Gallinari noted that his team has been staying in touch every single day since March 12. They’ve been mentally preparing and studying games leading up to this moment. Of the many unknowns for the 22 teams restarting their seasons in Orlando, Gallinari noted that his team’s mentality isn’t one of them.
“Mentally-wise, we’re going to be ready,” said Gallinari.
“At the end of the day we’re going to be playing basketball almost every day. That’s what we do. That’s what we love to do. We will have to adjust a little bit at the beginning, but we’ll have to get used to it.”
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