PAOLO ON THE COME UP
Paolo Banchero is currently the number four ranked basketball prospect in the nation for the class of 2021. He led O’Dea High School to a state championship in 2019 and averaged nearly 23 points, 11 rebounds, & 4 assists while playing in the EYBL (Elite Youth Basketball League) circuit. He was named the Most Valuable Player this year at the National Basketball Association Top 100 Camp this summer. And he’s received offers from Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Washington, Alabama & Gonzaga. Now hear from him on how he got there from Seattle Rotary, to why he stayed at O’Dea High School, the doubts he overcame, what he wants as a player that he still doesn’t have, & much more.
Jeremy Mills: Welcome to our guest, 3A State Champ from O’Dea, Paolo Banchero. For the people who don't know, you are an absolute beast. From what I've seen, you've got a lot of size, yes, but your post-game and footwork are almost more impressive. How are you so polished already?
Paolo Banchero: I would just say it came just watching people, watching a lot of basketball, watching guys older than me, working with my mom, she was a post. She had pretty good footwork so her just teaching me.
Jeremy: For the people who don't know, your mom Rhonda played for Franklin High School, University of Washington, and professionally in the United States and Greece. Was that training from day one when you were a kid picking up a basketball?
Paolo: Yeah, she's always been hard on me. She was coaching me as early as I can remember. Always being in the gym before practice, after practice, working with me.
Jeremy: While we are talking about training, is there a certain part of your game that you've had to spend more time on to feel comfortable? Something that didn't come naturally?
Paolo: I would say my three-point shot, I guess. It's something I'm still working on. Ball handling as well. I'm working on everything, but those two are more emphasized.
Jeremy: As a big man in today’s game, how do you balance developing your three-point shot while also maintaining proficiency in the post and mid-range?
Paolo: I focus on threes and ball handling while also incorporating the post-work, just trying to keep it balanced. I hit a growth spurt pretty late. I wasn't always the tallest on my team, so I played a lot of guard growing up.
Jeremy: You've stuck around Seattle and O’Dea High School despite receiving offers to play in a lot of great prep schools around the country, like Sierra Canyon in California, with guys like Bronny James and Zaire Wade. What made you stick around Seattle?
Paolo: Obviously, all the prep schools and those opportunities are very appealing. There are some I was interested in but my parents weren't really fans of it, so even if I wanted to, I couldn't leave. But I also want to stay just because I want to build a legacy in Seattle at O’Dea. Just staying home and being a hometown kid who doesn't leave, I guess. My dad, and my uncle, my grandfather they all went to O’Dea, so it was written that I would be here.
Jeremy: Speaking of O’Dea, you and your team won the 3A State Championship this season. What was that journey like for you and your team?
Paolo: For the team, it was an up and down season. We lost a lot of games. We hardly had a full squad throughout the year. I was injured for six or seven games. John [Christofilis] was injured the whole back-half of the season. We had a couple of other players who were injured, so we never got to play with the full squad and it messed up our rotations and line-ups. It was tough going into the state tournament, but we knew that if we put it together, we could make a run. And that's what we did.
Jeremy: When did that true belief come in that the team could win it all?
Paolo: Going into that first game after we beat Stanwood. We saw who our drawing was and we knew that if we were able to get to the semifinals, we'd be able to beat whoever we saw there.
Jeremy: Is there a particular way that you grew as a person this year throughout that journey?
Paolo: Yes. So, during my freshman year, I was a big part of the team, but I wasn't a leader. I would do what the seniors say. This past year, I took on the role of being a leader, by being vocal and keeping everybody together.
Jeremy: If you were able to talk to yourself at the beginning of the year, what advice would you have?
Paolo: I would probably tell myself, “Just be ready,” I guess. Just be ready because like I say it was up and down season. I was playing great the first half of the season and I went down with a concussion and had to get my conditioning back. So just being ready and being prepared for whatever happens.
Jeremy: How was coming back from a head injury different than coming back from something like a sprained ankle?
Paolo: I got a pretty bad concussion in San Diego. The first week you can feel it, you can feel the concussion there and just trying everything is a little off. I was just moving a little slower. That second week, I hadn't been able to run, but I felt great. I felt like I could come back and play. We were on Christmas break, so I didn't go to school. I didn't have to think about a lot so I was feeling great.
I went to the doctor and ran a test and it didn’t go very well. The doctor said, “You have at least another two weeks.” So, I just had to just sit back and just let it come rather than trying to rush back. That was my first one, so I didn't want to get another. That first game back against Ingraham, my conditioning was terrible. It was two up and downs on the court, and I was gassed. It was tough, but I’d say after the Ingraham game and then a week of practice, I felt pretty good.
Jeremy: Were you hesitant at all making contact once you were back on the court?
Paolo: I try not to think about it, but I was a little hesitant because of the way I got my concussion—I was undercut. So, I was a little cautious jumping. For the first game and first week back at practice, whenever I jumped, I just got a little anxious to get back on the floor.
Jeremy: Now, you've received several offers from colleges including Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Washington, Alabama & Gonzaga. What's that process like for you? Is it enjoyable? Is it too much?
Paolo: No, it's not too much. At least right now, it's really enjoyable for me just because I'm talking to schools and coaches that I’ve dreamed of talking to or being recruited by. I've been on the phone with John Calipari, Coach K. Maybe even the last year, maybe in two years ago, I knew I could get there, but I never saw myself or imagined myself speaking to them and building a relationship with them. I just worked hard and the schools started taking notice.
Jeremy: I know you can’t give all the details of what he said, but what was it like talking to Coach K? Did he say anything particular to you?
Paolo: Yes. He just told me, “Duke only recruits certain guys. They don't recruit everybody, even if you're a top player. We’re not just going to recruit you because you're a top player.” And he said I fit perfectly into that. I match everything that he looks for and that he wants to build a relationship because he hasn't seen me play in person but has watched a lot of tape.
He said he wants to see me play in person at Peach Jam. He wants to give honest feedback. He wants to be honest with me, he wants me to be honest with him. He doesn't want it to be anything fake. He used to tell me how a lot of recruiting now is fake, baloney type stuff. He just says he wants to be honest and build an honest relationship. I value that.
Jeremy: Taking it back to the Seattle area, can you talk about what the historic Seattle Rotary has done for you and your career?
Paolo: I've never played for another AAU team. I've been in Rotary since I was four-years-old playing on little hoops. I've been in there since I started playing. And it's done wonders. Daryll Hennings, Dan Finkley, Adam Sedlik, all of those guys I've known since I was a baby. They've been very involved in my development throughout the years. There's been many times where I've just come to Rotary or texted Daryll, asked him to let me into the gym at 10:30 at night just to give some shots up, and he's been there to rebound it for me. Those guys are some of the best guys ever. They're so graceful and unselfish, it's crazy. I'm not the only one but everyone in the Rotary program is lucky to have them. There's plenty of others besides them like Andrew Bernard, Jamaal Williams, even though he's a little newer, but he's another graceful guy that puts you before him. He's willing to get in the gym with you to get up shots. There's been plenty of times where a kid on the seventh-grade team, a lower team or something, might not have the best shoes, and he'll just go in the back and give him a pair of Nikes. They're great people.
Jeremy: You also played at the Nike Elite 100 camp recently. How was that camp different than others you’ve played at?
Paolo: It was good. It was my second year there. It was different because it was pretty grueling. I'm not going to lie. It was 14 hours of basketball for four days straight. You were in the gym and didn't leave the gym, but you got a lot of knowledge from a lot of great guys across the country like Rasheed Wallace, he was a big part in that camp. A lot of NBA guys when they come to camps, they don't coach—Jamal [Crawford] is a guy who's like Rasheed in that way. Rasheed was sweating with us, he was doing drills with us. He was super energetic. That and then the competition with great players on every team. Everybody you guard is a good player, and everybody that guards you is a good player.
Jeremy: Was there anybody in particular you enjoyed playing against?
Paolo: I'd probably say my friend Jonathan Kuminga. I love playing against Jonathan. I played against Emoni Bates, it was my first time playing against him and seeing him play in person. He's pretty good.
Jeremy: Who did you enjoy playing with?
Paolo: I played with my frontcourt partner, his name is Moussa Cisse. He's the number one center in the country from New York. We have played against each other in the past few summers. Then, we met at the Pangos All-American Camp. We were on the same team at the Nike Elite 100 Camp, and we built a pretty strong relationship. He’s just like my brother now.
Jeremy: We’ve heard a lot about your success. There is always another side to that, so I ask: what's the hardest you've been busted?
Paolo: I'd probably say, Isaiah Stewart. We played them Session Three in EYBL. He's playing for City Rocks, and I was a freshman year playing for the Rotary 17-under team. I always guarded the best centers. I think he had, like, 20-points and 20-rebounds. He was just making me work the whole game. He would shoot a jump hook or something and miss and the next thing you know he's on my back getting a rebound. It was pretty tough guarding him.
Jeremy: He is a giant guy, but it's been his energy that impressed me most so far at The CrawsOver.
Paolo: Yes, definitely. As soon as the possession changes, he's sprinting down the court and you just gotta keep up or else he's going to go over the top of your head, and he's getting a lay-up or dunk. That constant sprint down the floor, I admire that. That's what I’m trying to do. Every time just sprinting up and down the floor and give a maximum effort because he does that.
Jeremy: Talking about your journey, what kind of doubt or failure have you overcome?
Paolo: [laughs] Growing up people didn't think I was that good or they thought I was good, but they didn’t think I loved the game, stuff like that. I always did, but I was in a weird position playing football and basketball. Once I got in high school, my first summer with O’Dea, eighth-grade going to be a freshman, I didn't get a lot of playing time. I was riding the bench on Varsity Summer League. I knew I was talented enough to be on the court, but I wasn't playing, so I was like, "Man, this is whack."
I played terrible in all summer league and then eventually, went through football season. Then something just kind of clicked I guess. When you are playing for Coach [Jason] Kerr, you won’t get on the court unless you're playing defense and playing hard. And I just developed a high motor in a really short amount of time. I was always known for my raw talent but not always putting it together. Once I got to O’Dea, I just started playing with a motor, and it stuck. Now, I'm non-stop rebounding, running the floor, scoring, rebounding, dunking, everything.
Jeremy: You’ve won a state championship. You’ve competed in the elite basketball camps around the country. You’ve received offers from some of the most celebrated basketball schools in the country. But today, what is one thing that you've always wanted, but you still don't have?
Paolo: I didn't make the StarTimes, that was a little disappointing. I felt like I had a good enough season to make that. Then I want to win Peach Jam, this year or next year, but I want to at least make the final four because I want to play on ESPN. That's one thing I haven't done yet—I want to play in ESPN.
Jeremy: It would be amazing to see. Seattle would be behind you, rooting for you like they do all the guys. Paolo, thank you for coming on, man. I appreciate it and I look forward to watching you for the decade.
Paolo: Thanks for having me. [ ]