Updated: Jul 9, 2020
If you were composing a wishlist of sought-after characteristics in a modern-day positionless frontcourt player, that list might look something like this: positional size and versatility, high-level basketball IQ, shooting touch, passing feel, defensive awareness, and the ability to protect the rim as well as guard the pick-and-roll. A prospect that checks even a few of these items off the list would be considered appealing. Paolo Banchero, on the other hand, checks every box emphatically. The former quarterback and track star hit a growth spurt, narrowed his focus to basketball and it’s paying off: he’s building a realistic case as the top overall player nationally in the 2021 high school class.
At 6’10+, Banchero is strong, agile, has great hands, and shows incredible acumen on both ends of the floor. He’s flashed shooting potential out to three-point range, is an adept distributor and has to be among the strongest players currently in high school. He has displayed a rare maturity over the years having played up in the EYBL for Seattle Rotary at the U17 level both as a rising sophomore and junior. This past season, he was named Washington’s Gatorade Player of the Year and also won the MaxPreps National Junior Player of the Year award.
Although Banchero has participated in multiple USA Basketball training camps and minicamps up to this point, it seems that he will wind up playing for the Italian National team, where he was hoping to make an appearance as early as this summer. While COVID-19 has put AAU and Italy Basketball on hold for the time being, it seems that Banchero has utilized the time in quarantine to focus on his future, as he shared with Pro Insight that he’s one step closer to making a college decision, having shortened his list down to six programs.
This interview comes approximately one year after Banchero first sat down with Pro Insight, with a lot having developed in that time. This time around, in addition to going into detail with his recruitment, he gives an in-depth look into his development on and off the court, addresses the reclassification rumors, explains how he came to his decision to play for Italy, and much more.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present 2021 prospect Paolo Banchero, from Seattle, Washington:
Pro Insight: It’s been a year since we did our last Q&A together. What have these past 12 months looked like for you?
Paolo Banchero: I’d say a year ago from now, I had like probably five offers. I was highly ranked, was just getting started in AAU...I was pretty confident in my game, but I’d say now I’m a lot more confident. I got a bunch of offers over the summer and kind of ‘blew up’ in a way. So yeah, I think a lot changed — I think I got a lot better between then and now.
PI: In what areas have you developed and matured on the court this past season?
PB: I think I talk a lot more, verbally, to my teammates...just communicating. Trying to do that all the time, just so it makes things easier for us as a team, if everyone is talking and communicating. I think also, for myself, I’m moving way better. I’ve done a lot of work on my body and I still am — and I think I’m moving way better, laterally, quick, I think I’m a lot more explosive, so I just think my body has come a long way in that period of time.
PI: How about off the court?
PB: I think I’ve continued to get more focused...not saying I wasn’t focused, but just seeing that my goals were getting closer and closer, I’ve just been trying to limit distractions and keep my circle small. It’s been about keeping the main goal the main goal and not getting distracted.
PI: Do you feel like you still have some unfinished business at the high school level?
PB: I definitely want to win another one [state title]. I’m looking forward to my senior year and I always have, because I feel like it will be the year when no one really can stop me. I feel like this year, you know, I was pretty dominant and unstoppable but I feel like my senior year, if I put in enough work, I will really be unguardable. So I’ve always kind of looked forward to that. I still think there’s some unfinished business, especially since we lost this year...I would want to come back and redeem myself.
PI: What all do you hope to accomplish before graduating a year from now?
PB: I want to win another state championship; I want to make some national noise with my high school team, whether that’s a national tournament or an ESPN game, and win that; I want to play in all the All-American games; and if there’s still a little bit of AAU this summer, I want to play in Peach [Jam], win at Peach...this year, I feel like we had a really good team put together.
PI: Once and for all, set the record straight on the talk of you reclassing from 2021 to 2020.
PB: Yeah, it was something that I was considering this past summer. I was considering it...I talked about it with my family and coaches and all that, but now I am 100% 2021. Everybody knows that, I know that. A lot of people think that I’m like lying, holding off, to make some announcement, but I’m not doing that. I get why they might be saying that since other people have done that, but I’m staying in 2021.
PI: In light of COVID-19, how has your life been personally affected?
PB: I still have to get up early for school, online school. I get up at 8, but I’m at home all day. I haven’t really gone out and done anything. I went out and ran some hills last weekend, but other than that, I’ve just been in the house. The only time I’ve really left the house is to work out.
PI: More specifically, what does a current ‘day in the life’ of Paolo Banchero look like?
PB: I wake up, go to school from like 8 a.m. to 12:00 or 12:30 p.m., and then I chill, maybe take a nap, go work out at 6 p.m. I go work out four days of the week — every day but Wednesday — then get back around 8 p.m., do homework, eat, then go to sleep.
PI: What do you miss most about the ‘pre-COVID’ world, and why?
PB: I miss everything being normal! Like being able to go places. I miss AAU. I would definitely rather be back at school like normal than this right here...some people are happy that school is ‘canceled’ and whatnot, but I’d much rather have everything back to normal so I could be playing AAU and hanging out with my friends, and stuff. Just missing my regular day-to-day life.
PI: Before COVID-19 put everything on hold, what were you most looking forward to on the EYBL circuit?
PB: This was the year where we really thought we had a chance to win. My first year, we were really good and we thought we could’ve made the final four, but we weren’t sure if we could win; last year, we were lucky to make Peach Jam...we were just happy to be there; but this year, we really thought we could win — we got some new people, so I was just excited to play with the new team, and with this being my last summer, just leaving it all out there this summer...so that’s what I was excited about.
PI: Historically, who on the EYBL have you most looked forward to competing against?
PB: On the EYBL, you don’t play every team, so I haven’t played against every great player...but I remember my freshman year, playing against James Wiseman; last year, we played Terrence Clarke, Caleb Love, players like that. It’s just fun playing against players like that. This year I was looking forward to competing against some of those guys more at my position, like Pat Baldwin, Jonathan [Kuminga], Mike Foster, players like that...those were the players I was really looking forward to playing against.
PI: Where do you feel like you need to make the biggest strides as you transition to the college game and then beyond?
PB: My biggest strides I think are going to be...I think with my three-point shot. I think it’s solid and some days it’s really good, but just getting it more consistent and being more fundamentally sound with it...and being more consistent with my fundamentals. That’s what I’ve been working on a lot, just getting the fundamentals down while I’m tired and stuff like that...not letting myself get lazy and out of whack when I get tired. So, I think my three-point shot and then just tightening up on my overall skills. Also, just keep continuing to get stronger and more explosive...I think I move really good for my size. I need to get lower and more quick when I play...that’s a big stride I think I made over the past year from AAU to the high school season — in the fall I put in a lot of work and I started playing a lot lower, with a lower center of gravity, just getting better at using my shoulders and really cutting my defender off and just little things like that — so continuing to do that.
PI: Who would be on your Seattle Basketball Mount Rushmore?
PB: Jamal [Crawford] is on there. I would put Zach up there...LaVine. Cause I feel like Zach has the potential to be a top-10 player in the NBA in like two years. So I’m going to put Zach up there. I’d put Isaiah Thomas...he was an MVP-caliber player for a year or two. And then...B-Roy. He was elite before he got hurt, so I’ll go with him.
PI: At the end of the day, what are the chances you work your way onto that list?
PB: What are the chances? I think they’re pretty good. I believe in myself. I talk to a lot of those guys...especially Jamal, I talk to him the most and he’s not going to lie to me, he really believes I can be one the next players out of here and be elite and have a great NBA career, so I think my chances are good as long as I stay on the straight and narrow.
PI: What do you think differentiates the Seattle basketball culture from other cities?
PB: I think it’s a lot more of a family. You know, Seattle’s not that big, so you know, when you’re a Jamal Crawford and there’s a top high school player — I guess like me — you’re going to hear about him. And then also, the top older players, they all come back and build relationships with you and talk to you. I feel like some places, you know, the guys that ‘made it’ don’t come back and talk to the next up-and-coming guys. But in Seattle, it’s definitely the opposite. I’ve got a lot of good relationships with a lot of pros...aside from Jamal, Nate Robinson, Spencer Hawes, Zach LaVine, Dejounte Murray, Jason Terry, Peyton Siva, Aaron Brooks — Aaron has been out to O’Dea multiple times this year and talked to us as a team — but all those guys, I have their phone number and I can reach out to them any time.
PI: Can you talk a bit about the journey that led you to joining the Italian National Team?
PB: First off, USA [Basketball] had always been a goal of mine — like, my mom played and I’ve been watching Hoop Summit since I was a little kid. I didn’t know about USA’s junior program until Jaylen Nowell went. And as people know, his little brother Shane is like my best friend, so when he went, I knew I wanted to do that. I made it a goal of mine right when I heard about it. So I was invited (to a USAB Junior National Team Camp). It was a great opportunity. I don’t regret any time spent there. I loved it there. All the while, I want to say right before my sophomore year, Italy reached out and my dad told me about it. They had reached out to him. At first, it wasn’t something I was really thinking about...I really liked USA, where I was at. So I didn’t really talk about it much my sophomore year. Then at the end of my sophomore year, start of my junior year almost, they started talking about putting me on the Olympic Team. So we really started to think about it. With USA, I was confident that I could go to the pros and get picked for the USA Olympic Team, but it’s not a guarantee...that’s a whole different process. So my dad was like, “you could end up playing in three or four Olympics if you play with Italy.” Stuff to think about. Even then, at first, I was like “I still really like USA, so I’m not really sure.” Then I met with some of the people from the Italian program in San Francisco, and we talked, and just kept talking, and I ended up choosing that route.
PI: Have you picked up any Italian words or phrases?
PB: Not too much. They told me that I should probably start trying to learn. But I know, like, ‘ciao…’ That’s about it.
PI: Have you been to Italy before?
PB: No. I was going to go in June...I was going to go play in June, but then all this stuff happened so it got canceled.
PI: So as you continue on this path, can you outline your goals with Italy Basketball?
PB: Yeah. People might think it’s crazy...and maybe not this next year in the Olympics, but down the road, I think we could possibly win a gold medal. We’ve got a really good team that has been put together. So for the next Olympics, I would set the goal at getting a medal...to place in the Olympics. We have a team full of a lot of pros...so hopefully the goal would be to win a gold medal down the road. I also just really want to become more familiar with Italy, in general.
PI: Have you thought about recruiting any more (eligible) players to play?
PB: Well that’s kind of what they do (laughs). That’s what they’re really good at. They found me out of all people. I know they got Nico Mannion. I know him and have talked to him about it. They’re supposed to get Donte DiVincenzo. I know they were getting the guy from Texas Tech, [Davide] Moretti. And Ethan Happ, from Wisconsin. He was really good there. Yeah, so they are really good at finding players.
PI: You’ve now narrowed your list to six schools. Talk a little bit about what attracts you to each program.
PB: Washington - hometown school. Mom and pops went there. Grew up around Washington my whole life. I know it like the back of my hand. On my visit we didn’t even really do anything because I’ve already seen everything there multiple times, so, yeah. Coach Hop, Coach Dollar, Coach Conroy...that whole staff is like family. I’ve known Coach Dollar since he was at Washington the first time and Coach Conroy since his playing days. So real familiar with them. Jaden [McDaniels], RaeQuan [Battle] and Marcus [Tsohonis] all went there (former AAU teammates), so yeah, that’s the hometown school.
Arizona - they came in kinda late...well, they were recruiting me early, then stopped...and I always loved Arizona…for basketball, it was Washington and Arizona as my two favorite schools without a doubt. I’ve been following Arizona for a long time — I know a lot of the players that have come through there. I’ve always loved their playing style and just kind of the swag that they carry. So, they came in late...and I don’t like adding schools and wasn’t planning on that, but...if there was one school I was going to add, it was them. They just called me kind of like out of nowhere asking if they could recruit me and I was like “yeah.” Coach Miller and their whole staff, they’re real energetic and real confident in what they do. I did a virtual visit and they showed me around campus — the facilities are super nice there — everything is top of the line there.
Duke - Coach K, Coach Scheyer, and the rest of the staff...their resume speaks for itself. Coach K has done it with some of the best players in the NBA, some of the best players of all time...he’s coached Kobe, LeBron, and Kevin Durant on top of all the guys he’s coached at Duke. So he knows what it takes and he knows how to coach a great player. I think they just had their third straight National Freshman of the Year, or something like that...and they’ve had like a bunch more...and I don’t think anyone’s had as many top-three picks as them. They just have a great program over there.
Kentucky - Coach Cal, you know, he is one of the realest, most honest people I’ve dealt with in this recruiting process. He doesn’t promise you anything, he just tells you, like “I can help you get to your dream and I’m going to push you.” He’s honest about that — he’ll also say: “you’re going to work hard but we’re going to have fun and we’re going to help you get to where you want to get to.” He’s let me know that he’s confident that he believes I can get there, as far as being a lottery, or a top-five type player.
Gonzaga - Coach Few, Coach B-Mike, they were one of the earliest schools to start recruiting me. I’ve been there multiple times, like three or four times to Spokane. It’s not home, but it’s close to home. They’ve got like a machine over there...just the way they are, they just get work done, they develop, they run their stuff and it works, and it’s just a great, great program. They know what they’re doing. They win. People knock ‘em for being in a bad conference, but whenever they go out and play other teams, they beat ‘em. So, yeah, I love Gonzaga. Love Coach Few, love Coach B-Mike, and the rest of the staff.
Tennessee - Coach English, Coach Barnes...Coach English is almost like not even a coach to me, he’s kind of like a big brother. He played in the NBA, he’s young, we can just really relate. He can relate to me, you know? As far as the rest of the staff, Coach Barnes, he coached KD and LaMarcus Aldridge, and he just knows how to coach a player like me. And they also develop really well...they have a real good development system there. They’ve developed a lot of players who weren’t too good coming out of high school into pros, like Grant Williams, Admiral [Schofield], those are the two main ones they use. Their pitch is: they feel like, me, already being kind of established coming out of high school, they could develop me into even more of a player.
PI: Of all the visits you’ve taken, what’s the most memorable moment you’ve experienced?
PB: It would have to be either my first one at UNC or my last one at Gonzaga. At UNC, we were there for Late Night With Roy. It was me, Cade Cunningham, Ziaire Williams, and Day’Ron Sharpe. We walked into the arena, it was sold out, everyone was there..and when we walked in, the whole arena stood up and were cheering super loud for us...they sent us out there early, like even before the [UNC] players were out there, and stuff...so everybody stood up and gave us a huge standing ovation and they were just cheering, clapping for us. It gave me chills. And then at Gonzaga, I was at a game when they played BYU...big game, sold out...I mean they sell out every game, but it was a big game for them against BYU. It was during a timeout and I’m sitting there courtside kind of right behind the basket, and then all of a sudden I just hear “WE WANT PAO-LO!” and they had just all of a sudden all started chanting that, the whole student section. And anyone who’s ever been to a Gonzaga game or seen one, their whole student section is like a whole big thing along the entire sideline. So they all started chanting it, it was crazy. I don’t even really like that type of stuff...well I like it, but...you know, everyone started looking at me and all that...but yeah, that was dope. A once in a lifetime type thing.
PI: Can you break down what a virtual visit looks like?
PB: The one with Arizona, I actually ‘visited’ the campus, since I had never been there, before. So I saw all the facilities and all that. They took me around campus on the visit. But all the other ones have been just like this...just sit-down zoom calls with the whole staff. I’ve done them with Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky. And yeah, the whole staff is on the call, my mom and dad are on it, and yeah, you just talk...it’s pretty simple.
PI: How do you envision your timeline playing out with your recruitment?
PB: I could just see it to where I would choose to wait till after the season. I don’t want to commit during the season...that’d be too much of a distraction, I think. So after my high school basketball season. I think it’d be cool to commit on my birthday, November 12, but I think with the virus, I don’t know when I’d be able to take a visit, so committing in the fall or winter feels like it might be rushed or squeezed in. So I could just see it happening to where I wait until after the basketball season.
PI: What advice do you have for the young hoopers looking up to you as a role model?
PB: Luckily, when I was growing up we didn’t really have social media — I didn’t get Instagram until I was in like seventh or eighth grade. But, just don’t get caught up in that. Limit the distractions and just put your head down and work. I was that kid, I promise you guys...I was that kid, going to high school games, looking at all the high school players, knowing everybody’s name — that was me — for sure. I remember everyone’s name to this day. So, knowing that if you keep working that will be you, but once you get there — cause at that time I felt like varsity basketball was the NBA — so once you get there, you’re nowhere near finished. So just keep working, that’s the main thing. You know, now, you guys got a lot more distractions than I did, so try to limit those. Stay off your phone, go outside, play...be a kid, don’t get caught up. That’s what I tell my little brother, I have a 12-year-old little brother...he’s in that stage. I just try and tell him: you gotta keep working, keep that your main focus. Cause if you lock in right now — a lot of kids want to play Fortnite all day at this age — so I just tell him, “if you keep working, you can be better than me.” And I think he will be better than me.
Watch the full interview with Paolo, here