HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — More often than not this season Amar’e Stoudemire will serve as the Knicks’ headliner.
The loudest roar of that Madison Square Garden crowd will be reserved for the Knicks’ All-Star free agent acquisition. The brightest lights will be his, as will the bulk of the responsibility of the Knicks’ dreams of a playoff bid.
This weekend, though, belongs to third-year Knicks forward and Italian import Danilo Gallinari.
Gallo(you’ve got to love a guy whose nickname means “rooster” in Italian) is going home in style. When the Knicks take on Milano Sunday night in a preseason game at the Mediolanum Forum, the roof will rattle with cheers for the hometown kid that made good. We’ve got big plans for him this season as well, since Gallo is the early leader for HT’s Breakout Player of the Year honor.
According to my main man Howard Beck of The New York Times, there were a staggering 85,000 ticket requests for the game in an arena that seats only 12,000. Not bad for a player considered a “minor star” in soccer-mad Italy.
He is actually recognized more often on the streets of Manhattan than in Milan, where soccer is a religion and basketball is a minor sport. Among basketball icons here, Gallinari would rank well behind his coach, Mike D’Antoni, who starred for Milano in the 1970s and ’80s, leading the club to numerous championships.
Gallinari obviously has work to do to catch his coach in terms of popularity back home. He doesn’t even have one of the Top 10 selling NBA jersey in Europe (Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett, Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker have those spots on lock).
But Gallo’s working on cracking the list.
He’s only 22 and the Knicks haven’t exactly set the league on fire since he’s been with them, he was the sixth pick in the 2008 draft. A playoff trip this season, starring alongside Stoudemire, could go a long way towards improving Gallo’s profile back home and here in the states.
That said, there is plenty of work to do on the court. Gallo’s rookie season was washed away by injuries. His second season, however, was a bit of a revelation. He showed off a scoring touch that screams future star. And he wasn’t shy about performing on the big stage. Only Houston’s Aaron Brooks, the league’s Most Improved Player Award winner, shot and made more 3-pointers than Gallinari’s 488 and 186, respectively.
We love his moxie here at the hideout. The two times we saw him in person last season, Gallo carried himself like a star (you have to believe it before the rest of us will). We’re predicting big things for him this season.
He’ll have plenty of chances to prove he is indeed who we think he is, starting this weekend on his home turf.