It probably shouldn’t be a major surprise that U18 Stellazzurra Rome guard Emmanuel Innocenti values defense more than offense.
ANGT Finals: Stellazzurra’s Innocenti appreciates the fight for what he has
The energy and fight it takes to play at the defensive end of the court fits with the trials the guard has gone through to reach the level needed to play at the Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament Finals.
Innocenti’s effort helped Stellazzurra take first place at the ANGT Patras, knocking off U18 Maccabi Tel Aviv 62-74 as the club took the top spot in an ANGT qualifying tournament for the first time since ANGT Rome 2014-15.
“The ANGT Patras was a good experience as we were a group and had a good time. Winning it was exciting as it hadn't happened for a long time. So I'm happy for myself and my teammates,” said Innocenti, who averaged 9.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.8 steals.
The Italian club, which reached the ANGT Championship Game in 2018, is now preparing for its fourth appearance at the ANGT Finals.
“I am very excited for the Finals and Final Four because I was unable to participate last year, so it is a rematch,” Innocenti said. “I am looking forward to playing against strong teams.”
Facing strong teams in the ANGT last season in the Istanbul qualifying tournament - where he averaged 7.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.3 steals - helped him improve.
“Since last year I have become more aware of the quality of the team and my own. I understand better that if we play together, we can do great things. Compared to last year, I think I have improved in staying focused until the end of the game and always bringing energy,” he said.
Innocenti experienced challenges growing up. He was born in the Ivory Coast but moved to Italy when he was 5 years old because of war raging in the western African country.
“I don't remember much about Ivory Coast except the war. When my dad came to get me, I was happy because it was like god gave me a chance to have a better life,” Innocenti remembered.
It was a life without his mother and grandmother though as both stayed behind in Ivory Coast.
“I was still a child so I didn't understand the dangers of certain things but when I grew up I prayed that nothing would happen to them and we kept in touch.”
At age 10, Innocenti and his father moved to Senegal to be closer to his mother. Emmanuel, who had started playing basketball at age 6 in Italy, also played the game in Senegal.
“I continued to play basketball there too. I adapted quickly and felt at home. I felt like I was back in Ivory Coast without the war. I liked Senegal,” he recalled.
After two years in Senegal, it was back to Italy - still without his mother though as she could not get a visa to travel. Innocenti ended up landing at Stellazzurra three and a half years ago. And that’s when his basketball career started to really take off.
But he always tried to remember the trials he has faced. Innocenti's Instagram profile contains the quote: “If you don't fight for what you want, don't cry for what you lose.”
“Since I was little, I have been used to fighting for the things I wanted. That sentence represents a bit of who I am. I think it is normal to make mistakes or fail in things but it is better to fail by trying to do things and get them than not to do them and then complain about having lost an opportunity. If I got this far, it is thanks to this idea.”
It is that mindset that helps Emmanuel Innocenti excel at defense and helps Stellazzurra Rome win games.