CatsIllustrated - Q&A with top-five junior Paolo Banchero
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Q&A with top-five junior Paolo Banchero

Paolo Banchero
Paolo Banchero (Eric Delgado / Jon Lopez Creative / Nike)

After hearing overtures from a number of suitors, second-ranked junior Paolo Banchero has decided to cut his school list to a final six. A college decision is not imminent but Banchero has a plan in place for how he wants to eventually get to making one.

In the meantime, we caught up with the five-star product out of Seattle, Washington, to get his feelings on his final six in another Q-and-A session. In it, he also discussed the different selling points by each of his finalists, potentially playing with Kennedy Chandler in college, and if the new G-League route would pique his interest.

Corey Evans (CE): How have you been managing the past five or six weeks during the ongoing pandemic?

Paolo Banchero (PB): I have just been staying home, doing what the experts are saying, staying sharp and staying safe. As far as recruiting, talking to coaches more since they have more time on their hands with the Zoom calls and virtual visits.

CE: Why now a final six?

PB: Because I want to prioritize. It was always the plan for me to cut my list down before AAU. If nothing had happened, I probably would have released it a little earlier. I just want to focus on the six that I could really see myself out. The rest, I just didn’t think that I could fit well at. I didn’t want to waste their time but rather, I just can just focus on those six and have a lot of time to look at those schools hard and figure it out.

CE: Who are those six?

PB: Kentucky, Duke, Tennessee, Washington, Gonzaga and Arizona.

2020 Rankings: Rivals150 | Team | Position

2021 Rankings: Rivals150 | Position

2022 Rankings: Top 75


CE: For Gonzaga, you already visited there officially so why did they make the cut and what stands out to you about the program?

PB: They were probably right behind Washington as far as the first school to really start to recruit me. They have been recruiting me for a long time. I have built a great relationship with Coach Mark Few and Coach Bryan Michaelson and Coach (Tommy) Lloyd, as well. They have just stressed player development, especially with players at my position; they play through their bigs and forwards. They make it known with that and so, if I was to go there, I would know that I would get the ball and get good touches to where I can make plays and also get easy buckets and not always have to work to score.

CE: Arizona made the cut which is impressive seeing that they just offered a few weeks ago. Why the amount of interest in them?

PB: Arizona is not, I wouldn’t say they were my dream school, but Arizona is a program that I have always had an eye for and always loved since I was younger. Whenever I was younger, it was always Washington and Arizona as far as Pac 12 and west schools for me. They recruited me early whenever Coach (Lorenzo) Romar was there whenever I was a freshman. They kind of stopped after and then I didn’t really hear from them at all but then a couple of weeks ago, Coach (Sean) Miller reached out and said that he wanted to get on the phone with me and that he wanted to start to recruit me and to see if we could talk and if I could add them. For me, it was pretty easy and automatic since I have always been loving what they have been doing over there and Arizona has always been a school that I have always been interested in for a long time. I would say they also made up a lot of ground in the last couple of weeks since I first got onto the phone with them. I talk to them almost every day and they took me on a virtual visit to show me all the facilities so they have made up a lot of ground.

CE: Let’s go back home and talk about Washington, a place both of your parents attended and much of your friends currently do. What are your feelings about playing there and potentially having such a giant support group behind you?

PB: I am going to take an official visit to Washington but really, it won’t be a visit since I have already seen everything their multiple times. I am super familiar with the school and have a bunch of connections to it outside of my parents to the school. As far as the staff, Coach (Will) Conroy and Coach (Cameron) Dollar, two coaches that I have known since before Coach Hop (Mike Hopkins) got here. Coach Conroy, I have known since he was playing at UW; Coach Dollar I have known since he was coaching at Seattle years ago. Coach Hopkins, they are really banking on my 2021 class being a big one, so he just thinks by the time me and a lot of other recruits get there, along with some other freshmen that were there this past year will be juniors by then, they have two transfers that will be upperclassmen by the time we would get there, he just thinks that we would have a really strong core and that I could step into and be someone to build around but I would also have a good supporting class with a lot of experience and leadership.

CE: Duke, you visited there already officially, but what has been their consistent pitch with you for the past 12 months?

PB: Just allowing me to be a basketball player. A lot of people say different things about Duke but one of the main things that stands out to me is that they have three straight years that they have had the National Freshman of the Year, I think. Being able to come in as a freshman and to play through my mistakes and play a lot and them setting me up for success. Coach K talks to me all the time about how he coached LeBron (James) and Kevin Durant all on the same team and all those great basketball players and getting them to gel together and he just tells me that I could come in with a great group of guys who would be coming in with me and who would already be there and that I would fit in perfectly and have the chance to have the ball in my hands. One thing that they have stressed is that you will have the ball in your hands a lot, especially as a player like me that can pass and all that stuff. The chance to compete for a national championship, too, to have the chance to compete for a conference and national championship is their pitch.

CE: Kentucky, how are they different maybe with their pitch compared to Duke and what impressed you about that visit and getting to know their staff?

PB: It is just like a machine there, a high-quality operation. Coach Cal (John Calipari), obviously, but also Coach Kenny Payne, Coach (Tony) Barbee, and Coach (Joel) Justus, those are three great coaches and also three great basketball minds. Their pitch is a little bit different because they make it clear from the beginning whenever they start recruiting you that you are not going to be promised anything when you come here but you have to earn it, but we can help you and we will help you in getting to be a top-five overall draft pick and to compete for a national championship, as well. Their pitch for me has just been, a lot of people all the time try to put bigs in a box and certain places don’t give you the freedom, but they have stressed really hard that they don’t see me having really a position. Actually, all of the schools have told me this and that is part of the reason why they are in my final six is that they all talk about the same thing as far as they don’t see me as playing the position. Obviously, I am 6-foot-10, 240-pounds, so I am going to be down low sometimes because it is much easier to score but a lot see me as a basketball player and Kentucky is one of the schools that stresses they don’t see me playing a position but rather all over the floor, being able to push the break, initiate the offense and, at the same time, going down there and getting the easy basket but not putting me in a box.

CE: Tennessee is a school that we even talked about last time you visited there about how impressed you were about the program, their facilities and ability to develop its players.

PB: Lots of people asked me why I took an official visit there but I always had an eye for Tennessee even before they started to recruit me. I am not sure why but they were always a team that I would see and watch and kind of like. Whenever they reached out and offered, it was kind of bigger to me than what people had expected just because it was a school that I kind of liked so I decided to take an official there and whenever I got there, I was just blown away. Coach (Rick) Barnes coached Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge. Kevin Durant was a one-and-done as a freshman, the number-two pick. Also, Coach (Kim) English played in the NBA, he is a younger guy and he is just a person that talks to me the most and is almost like a big brother rather than a coach to me; we can talk about anything that he knows about with modern day things since he is younger and was in the NBA six or seven years ago. Their player development speaks for itself; they have taken a lot of three-stars, no-star recruits and turned them into really good college players or pros, so what they could do that with me as far as developing me, that is really eye-opening and is something that I value and it is just a great college town and a great place, overall.

CE: Talk about your relationship with Kennedy Chandler. I know that it isn’t a package deal but there has been some talk about you two playing together in college. Where do you guys stand on that?

PB: We talk almost every day. We have been talking for almost every day for a while so that is just one of my good, good friends. We would love to play together in college and we talk about it a lot and I could see it happening but, as you said, I wouldn’t say that it is a package deal. At the end of the day, we are going to do what is best for each other and that may be playing together at a school, or that may not be if he likes one school better than the rest and I like one different school better than the rest. It could go that way or we could also play together. There have been a lot of other players that have reached out to me and talked to me about playing together in college together, too, so it is kind of tricky, and I can’t go to school with all of them but me and Kennedy are good friends.

CE: How do you want this process to play out for you? You have five more visits to use during your senior year so is it visits and then commit in the fall, or what exactly?

PB: I just want everything to happen naturally so, at this point, these six schools are the ones that I really like and the only ones that I could see myself at moving forward so that is why I narrowed it to these six for now. I am going to focus on these six, take visits and then, if my mind is made up by the fall after the visits, then I could commit after the fall or in the winter, but if it is not and I am stuck, I probably wouldn’t want to stress myself out during the season, so I could see myself holding back during the season and not committing then and maybe I commit after the season and during the all-American games. It all depends on how things work out. I may want to see how the teams play during the year or maybe my mind is made up, I really just don’t know. It will be more about whenever my mind is made up, I am just going to commit then but if I am deciding between however how many schools, I will just wait until it is made up. I don’t have a deadline set to meet.

CE: You have six schools on your list but just five official visits to use, do you know how you want that all to play out?

PB: I am not sure and I have to think about that. I think that I am going to take an official visit to Washington since I didn’t take one there last year so maybe that means I take an unofficial visit to Gonzaga; I could see something like that happening. We will see. I haven’t decided on that yet and it is something that I will have to figure out.

CE: Last thing that I have to ask is about the new G-League path. What would be your intrigue level in that and what is your interest in playing at least a year in college basketball?

PB: I think it is good for the game and it is a good thing for the guys that don’t want to go to college that can go to the G-League and get NBA coaching and development for a year in that system and then enter the draft. I do think, though, that it is probably not for everybody and you have to be really elite to do that. Guys like Jalen Green and Isaiah Todd, I could see it working out for them but you just have to be careful. For me, I don’t know. They haven’t reached out to me but maybe they reached out to my parents but they haven’t told me about it. It is something that if they offered or reached out, I would definitely look at and me and my parents would sit down and talk about. I do think for me, personally, playing in college, on TV and in the NCAA Tournament, and to have that college experience for a year, and do all of those other things in college, I value that type of stuff; that is a big thing for me. I could see myself probably sticking with college but it is something that I would look at instead of automatically shutting it down.