Pro Insight Q&A Series
For the next installment of the Q&A series, Pro Insight presents Paolo Banchero, one of the top players in the 2021 class, from Seattle, WA:
Photo courtesy of USA Basketball
Pro Insight: First off, congrats on the state championship. Let’s talk about your season at O’Dea – talk about your run to the 3A title and what your team had to overcome to get there.
Paolo Banchero: Well we had an up-and-down season – we rarely had our full squad, this year. There were stretches where me and Noah Williams were both injured and we lost John Christofilis for the season, but going into the state tournament, we still knew we could win. We felt disrespected by our seed and that gave us a chip on our shoulder. We knew if we played team defense, the offense would come along. That’s what we did the whole tournament and we ended up winning it.
PI: Out of all the guys you matched up with this year, who was the toughest?
PB: I’d probably say Tyson Degenhart from Mount Spokane, who we played in the state championship. He was probably the toughest matchup, just because he was the most aggressive guy in terms of attacking me and not backing down.
PI: Your high school coach, Jason Kerr, has a rich history of winning at a high level in the state of Washington and he’s coached some pros over the years. I’m curious, what’ve been the most important things you’ve learned from him, over the course of your high school career?
PB: Just hard work and what that means. Bringing the effort every day. He preaches that he shouldn’t have to coach effort and that we should bring that every day.
PI: Describe your game – what are your greatest strengths and biggest areas for improvement? What’s the most underrated aspect of your game?
PB: My strengths are my overall versatility, my passing ability, my playmaking, and just limiting mistakes. I don’t turn it over a lot. Making the right play. Things that I feel I need to work on are probably playing lower – like dribbling and attacking, just having a lower center of gravity. Also, my three-point consistency on my shot. The most underrated part of my game is my athleticism.
PI: That’s an interesting point you bring up about being a low-mistake player. That’s something I’ve always thought about you after walking out of the gym watching you in AAU, at USAB, and at O’Dea. It’s rare to see a 16-year-old play with such a high level of maturity. Can you elaborate on that a little more, from your perspective?
PB: Yeah, I just don’t really ever feel rushed or pressured in a game. I just kind of feel like I’m always able to play at my speed and my pace and I don’t really let anyone speed me up or slow me down. And, yeah – I guess the IQ has just kind of always been there…making the right play and not doing too much. Keeping it simple. Being productive.
PI: Have you always been one of the tallest kids your age, or did you have a big growth spurt?
PB: I had a big growth spurt in middle school. I started 7th grade at 5’11-6’ and by the summer going into 8th grade, I was 6’5. By the start of high school I was 6’6 and then hit another spurt to 6’9 by the end of my freshman year.
PI: You think you’re done?!
PB: I think I might have about an inch, or two left, haha. But I wouldn’t mind being done.
PI: Two years down, two to go. What are your main goals you want to accomplish before your high school career is over?
PB: I want to win two more state championships; I want to take our team to a National Tournament, like Hoophall or City of Palms. I also want to win Gatorade State Player of the Year.
PI: Why do you wear number 5? Is there a story behind that?
PB: When I first started playing little league football that was the number I chose. So it was my first number and I stuck with it. I would’ve got it my freshman year of basketball, but I got the last pick when it came to jersey numbers, so I had to settle with 41. But I got 5 this year and from now on, I’ll hang onto it.
PI: Speaking of football, you were a big time QB and recently hung up the cleats. Talk about that decision – was it difficult? Do you miss it?
PB: Umm, I don’t miss it. It wasn’t really hard to make the choice. Going into my freshman year, I knew it’d be my last year playing football. After I got the offer from UW in October during the football season, I officially made up my mind up that I was going to hang up the cleats. It wasn’t really hard, cause I just kind of stopped enjoying it at a certain point, but yeah, I’m glad I played the years I did, but I wouldn’t say I miss it.
PI: Would you say that playing football has taught you anything to apply on the basketball court?
PB: Yeah, it’s definitely taught me a lot. It taught me a lot about leadership, being a quarterback. Being vocal. Also, it’s helped me with my vision – just seeing the field, seeing the court, always having your eyes up.
PI: How has your experience been with USA Basketball over the past year, or so? You tried out for the U17 team last June and participated in the Junior National Team Minicamp in October – what was that like?
PB: It was great. That was a dream of mine – to be able to at least try out or get invited to a minicamp with USA. So, when I got that first invite to try out, I was pretty excited. As far as the experience – the first time going in June, I could definitely so that I was fatigued. The altitude got to me. I wasn’t prepared for it. I feel like I played pretty good, I just got tired pretty easy. The second time I went in October, I had done some conditioning for two weeks prior leading up to it, and I feel like I played a lot better – especially on offense. I was a lot more vocal, too.
PI: Which players stood out to you the most in Colorado Springs?
PB: Bryan Antoine. I hadn’t really seen him play, at all. Then I saw him at USA in October and he was really good. I feel like he should be ranked higher than he is. I also thought Isaiah Stewart was definitely impressive. He was hard to guard.
PI: What are your goals for EYBL this spring?
PB: I want to go back to Peach Jam, again. Lead the team to Peach Jam. We have a new team – I’m the only returner – every other player is new. So just leading them. Just having a good season. I’m not worried about any accolades, or anything. I just want to have a productive, good season.
PI: Both of your parents were high-level athletes in their own right – what are some things that they’ve instilled in your over the years?
PB: My dad always preached to me about having a great attitude and giving great effort. My mom has just always kind of given me advice on everything basketball-wise, just because she played at a high level in college and in the pros. So, she’ll break it down with me after every game – what I did right, what I did wrong. She’s always pushed me. If I have a good game, she’s still always telling me what I could do better. She always keeps me level-headed.
PI: You obviously have some time to figure it out, but down the line as you prepare to make your college decision, what are some of the top things you’re looking for in a school?
PB: I’d say a school that needs me. I don’t want to go to a school that just kind of wants me or has other players there in my position, already. A school where the coaching staff, the players and the university feels like a family environment. And I’d also say somewhere where I feel comfortable calling home.
PI: Name 3 words that best describe you.
PB: Funny. Hard-working. Smart.
PI: Do you watch more college or NBA basketball? What are you looking for and what are your biggest takeaways when you watch?
PB: I watch both, but probably more college. When I watch, I always lock in on guys that play my position, like the 3s the 4s and the 5s. I watch them just because I’m not that far away from playing at that level, so I like to compare myself and just watch how fast the game is, how different it is from high school. I like to compare myself and just kind of see how I’d fit into the college game, I guess.
PI: What type of system best fits your playing style?
PB: I like to play fast – get up and down the floor, rebound and push
PI: College or pro, current or former player – do you model your game after anyone?
PB: Yeah. I try to model different aspects of my game with different people. I kind of model my game after LeBron, even though I’m not as good of an athlete, obviously. I like how he’s able to find the open man and create his own shot, as well as others. I like Marcus Morris with the Celtics. He’s a face-up big, hits open shots, has a nice midrange game. I also like Ben Simmons as a point forward and how he finds the open man – guys like that. I watch a lot of Tobias Harris and Al Horford, too.
PI: Do you view yourself as kind of positionless between 3-5?
PB: Yeah. Like this year for high school, especially in the state tournament or in late-game situations, I’d bring the ball up the floor. I kind of had to be able to play 1-5, guard every position – just be all over the floor and be versatile.
PI: Please explain what Paolo Banchero brings to a team, regardless of the situation – name some things on the court and some things off the court.
PB: On the court: energy, playing hard, making the right plays, rebounding, scoring – whatever the team needs me to do, really. Off the court: just kind of making sure everyone’s good, checking on my teammates. Being a leader.
PI: What has been a defining moment or story in your life? Why has that stuck with you and what did you learn from it?
PB: The summer going into my freshman year, playing summer league with my high school team. I was on varsity, but I didn’t get any playing time, really. There were a handful of games when I didn’t even get in the game. It was just because I wasn’t playing hard – I wasn’t interested in really communicating, or anything. That was when I kind of realized that if I just brought the effort every day in practice and in games, then I could be a lot better than I was. Coach Kerr really pushed me and wouldn’t let me settle for average. I think throughout that year, I really developed the motor that I have now. I think not playing that summer really woke me up.
PI: What, or who, would you say is your biggest motivation in life?
PB: Basketball’s just always been something that I love and something I wanted to pursue. So playing for the love of the game is a real motivation for me. I definitely want to take care of my parents, too, after all they’ve done for me and sacrificed for me. But what’s always been my main motivation is being better than my mom. It sounds funny, but I’m just chasing her, wanting to be better than her. She’s accomplished a bunch of stuff, so I want to catch up to her and pass her up. At the end of the day, I want to be great, I don’t want to be average.
PI: At the end of the day, what do you want to be remembered for?
PB: At the end of the day, I want to be remembered as one of the best, if not the best basketball player to ever come out of Seattle. More than that, I want to be remembered not just as a great basketball player, but as a great person. I just want to have an impact on people’s lives off the court, kid’s lives off the court. If I ever make it pro, just giving back and doing camps and stuff like that.