Bortolani learning all he can with lessons in Treviso
To encourage the development of more young local talents, the Basketball Champions League requires its teams to register at least 5 Home Grown Players on the game score sheet (if 11 or more players listed, otherwise 4 if the roster has 10 or fewer players). Many of these players are considered top level talents in their respective countries and I will be taking a look at some of them over the course of the season.
TREVISO (Italy) - Call Nutribullet Treviso the next chapter in the basketball book of Giordano Bortolani - a tale of a talent being sent around Italy, and Europe for that matter, to eventually come back home ready to be a leader. The first pages of his time in northeastern Italy definitely are keeping the reader engaged.
Bortolani will not turn 21 until December, but the point guard has taken a leadership role in his new team, guiding Treviso through the Basketball Champions League Qualifiers and into the Regular Season, where they are 2-0 in Group D after wins over VEF Riga and AEK Athens.
"It's just the beginning, we haven't done anything," said Bortolani, who collected 17 points and 3 rebounds in 25 minutes in the 92-77 win over AEK.
Treviso are certainly on a roll, having beaten London Lions, Bakken Bears and Tsmoki-Minsk in the Qualifiers. And the 6ft 4in (1.93m) playmaker played a major role in the club reaching the BCL Regular Season for the first time, collecting 13.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists in the Qualifiers.
It shouldn't be a surprise that basketball plays a significant part in Bortolani's book of life.
"My first memories of basketball were from the playground. I used to go to play there in Milan with my father when I was young. He played before I was born and when I was a little boy, so I don't remember much," said Bortolani, whose father Lorenzo played in the Italian Serie A in 1990 and helped Capo d'Orlando to the Serie B championship later in his career.
No other sport ever had a chance with Giordano, who started playing at age 5 and grew up watching a couple of NBA legends.
When asked about his basketball role models, he said: "This one is tough. I would say Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson – I really liked them two back in the days. I love watching games, so I'm a basketball fan in general."
Just like Bortolani's love is split by two basketball greats, his heart beats for two very different places in his homeland. He was born on the island of Sicily - where his father helped Capo d'Orlando to the Serie B title, but the family moved to Milan when Giordano was 5 years old.
"I feel Sicilian, but at the end of the day I got used to the life style of Milan. They're two completely different situations, but my origins belong to me even if I wouldn't change Milan for any other city," Giordano said with a healthy dose of diplomacy.
Milan will forever be the setting of Giordano's first dribbles in the game he loves. He joined the famed Olimpia Milano club and came up through the team's youth ranks. Eventually, Bortolani thought professional basketball might be an option.
"I think during the last years with the Olimpia Milano youth teams, when I started getting bigger from a physical point of view," he said.
"When I started playing basketball I was pretty small and not well developed physically, so I didn't have that confidence. When my body started to change, it was also easier to play and I gradually started realizing that I maybe could have a role in this game."
Fairy tale professional debut
Bortolani continued to get better and eventually Milan head coach Simone Piangiani included the youngster in his roster for a February 4, 2018 home game. And for the sake of a good story, let us all believe that Piangiani knew of the significance of inserting the 17-year-old into the game against … Capo d'Orlando.
"I remember every second of that game! Capo d'Orlando is my birthplace. It was an unbelievable coincidence to score my first Serie A points against them," said Bortolani, who hit his only three-point attempt for three points in two minutes.
"It was amazing and a bit weird too. In fact, a lot of friends or even people I didn't know that much wrote me after that game. It was very special."
Bortolani ended the 2017-18 season with four appearances in Italy's top flight with six points on 2-of-2 three-point shooting and 0-of-2 on 2-pointers with 1 turnover in a combined eight minutes.
Bortolani spent that season predominantly with Bernareggio in the third division Serie B. Milan decided for 2018-19 to loan him out to Serie A2 second division side Legnano, where he averaged 11.7 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists. And for 2019-20, Bortolani played on loan with Biella of the Serie A2 and he collected 14.9 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists.
"The two years in Legnano and in Biella were great. They helped me a lot because I had more space and I had the opportunity to play more. And I also proved that I could play at that level," he remembered.
Italy comes calling
One of Bortolani's biggest games during the 2019-20 season came in mid January when he exploded for 30 points with 7 three-pointers. That came a couple of days after he had tallied 22 points against Tortona. And those two games seemed like they were enough for the writers of Bortolani's biography to add another major moment.
Italian senior national team head coach Meo Sacchetti added the 20-year-old to his squad for the February 2020 FIBA window with FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers games at home against Russia and at Estonia.
"I think it was because of both the decision of the Italian senior team to call some young players for that window and the fact that I was playing really well in general that season. Surely those two games had been important, but I had an overall good year," said Bortolani, who had played for Italy at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2018 and averaged 1.5 points a game.
Sacchetti even called Bortolani's number early in the game against Russia.
"I wasn't expecting that call, because I entered during the first quarter and I thought to play maybe later. Probably for the first time in a long time I was a little nervous," said Bortolani, who ended up playing 3:54 minutes and picking up 3 points.
When asked about his first experience with Italia on his chest at the senior level, he said: "I was a little disoriented because I didn't even play in the Serie A. So I didn't know my teammates. I felt like on a lower level."
Nel primo match dell'@Italbasket verso EuroBasket 2021, a segno fra i giovanissimi non solo Matteo Spagnolo: primi punti in Nazionale anche per l'altro ragazzo nato negli anni 2000 (nonchè l'unico dei convocati contro la Russia a giocare in A2), Giordano Bortolani!#EuropeiTipo pic.twitter.com/B5YIhhvPcz— Marco A. Munno (@MarcoAMunno) February 21, 2020
Video games, music and a little hoops
The Covid-19 outbreak stole the basketball competition from Bortolani - just like the rest of the world. And after a pretty strong rise in the game which required a lot of work, dedication and concentration, Bortolani did what many 20-year-olds would do if given their choice to do anything they wanted.
"Actually I spent my time playing video games - like Call of Duty," he admitted. "Luckily I had a basket under the house, but nothing special."
If Bortolani's life story were ever to hit book shops, it probably wouldn't be Giordano who wrote it. He regrets to disclose that he really wasn't that good at school. He enjoyed being outside and going to the playground with his friends. The other passion of his is music, especially rap music.
"When I was in Milan I usually went to listen to people singing and freestyling around the city or things like that," he said.
Giordani even admitted: "When I was younger, I used to freestyle rap."
So maybe we could get some rap songs about Bortolani's basketball journey.
Long-term commitment to Milano - and Messina
The pandemic summer of 2020 also saw Bortolani extend his long-term commitment to Olimpia Milano as he signed a five-year contract with the club.
"At the beginning I didn't expect that. Five years is a long time. But when I met coach (Ettore) Messina, and we had the opportunity to talk, he showed me great interest. I couldn't say no," he said.
In attesa di conoscere il nome della sua prossima squadra, il classe 2000 Giordano Bortolani si prepara a quella che sarà la sua prima stagione "vera" di Serie A.#SerieATipo pic.twitter.com/GqM4Ni1Tcg— Marco A. Munno (@MarcoAMunno) June 18, 2020
Giordano was still just 20 years old and Messina and the club had major aspirations domestically and internationally. So the sides agreed to send the youngster back on the road for the 2020-21 season, loaning him this time to Italian top flight side Brescia, with whom he would play internationally for the first time as well in the EuroCup. He averaged 6.2 points, 1.2 rebounds and 0.5 assists while shooting 44 percent on three-pointers.
.@LeonessaBrescia, Giordano Bortolani is pulling out magic tricks! 😱🪄#7DAYSMagicMoment pic.twitter.com/3leTzjWTGJ— 7DAYS EuroCup (@EuroCup) October 14, 2020
In his return to Milan in November 2020, he collected 10 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 21 minutes against Olimpia. The season highlight came on January 23, 2021 when he nailed 3 three-pointers in scoring 23 points to go with 4 rebounds and 1 block in a thrilling 90-89 victory at Virtus Segafredo Bologna.
One of his opponents in that game was Italian veteran star Marco Belinelli. And facing the former NBA champion and long-time star of the Italia national team was something special for Bortolani.
"It was a wonderful feeling. A little weird too. I never expected to play against those kind of players and if I remember correctly we also had similar stats in that game," said Bortolani, referring to Belinelli also hitting for 23 points and grabbing 4 rebounds.
Giordano even posted a photo of him and Belinelli on his social media.
View this post on Instagram
"When I received the picture I had to post it, even if I rarely post photos on Instagram," he added.
Bortolani ended the 2020-21 season especially strong, scoring 11 points against Sassari and then pouring in 23 points against Cremona and nailing 6 three-pointers for 24 points in the season finale versus Pesaro.
The campaign also saw him return to the Italian senior team in February 2021 and he combined for 18 points in two games against North Macedonia in the EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers.
In this past off-season, Milan decided once again to send Bortolani out on loan - this time to Treviso to play in the Basketball Champions League.
"Again Milan obviously sent me where they knew I would have had some important minutes and the possibility to grow. Now I'm doing it here and I'm happy because I think Treviso is an amazing environment for a young guy and his growth," he said.
Through this whole process, Bortolani is gaining more and more attention as a possible leader for the Italian national team and Milan. But he's not worried about that.
"I simply don't put pressure on myself and I don't feel the pressure people create around my name. Basketball is what I want to do in my life so I always try to do my best; that's it."
Namely, letting life write its own story with him as the main character.