A silky-smooth forward with a great shot and a solid all-around game, Danilo Gallinari of Armani Jeans Milano made instant impact on courts around the continent this season and has been rewarded with the 2008 Euroleague Rising Star Trophy in a vote of the competition's head coaches. The teenage forward, who came into the season with but two minutes of Euroleague experience under his belt, quickly became not only a top scoring threat for Milano, but a team leader. Gallinari dealt with everything that opposing defenses threw at him and wound up among the top 10 regular season performers in index rating. Besides leading Milano in scoring with 14.9 points per game, Gallinari was among his team's top three players in rebounding, steals and blocked shots. "I enjoyed myself playing the Euroleague this season, even though I would like to have played more games," Gallinari said. "I hope to play another Euroleague and reach a lot further in the competition."
The four-year old Rising Star Trophy recognizes the best Euroleague Basketball player who was younger than 22 on July 1 of the summer before the season started. Partizan Igokea center Nikola Pekovic is the runner-up, forward Nicolas Batum of Le Mans placed third and center Omer Asik of Fenerbahce fourth.
The Rising Star Trophy is among several end-of-season honors awarded by Euroleague Basketball. Already announced has been the Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy, the only statistics-based award, which went to Marc Salyers of Chorale Roanne. The Best Defender Trophy is still to be awarded and the nominees for the All-Euroleague team announced. The All-Euroleague first and second teams, plus the Euroleague MVP, will be revealed at the Euroleague Basketball Awards Ceremony on May 3 during the Final Four in Madrid. The Aleksander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy and the Euroleague Club Executive of the Year are post-season awards.
Gallinari, who turns 20 in August, never looked like a teenager on the court this season. His basketball pedigree surely helped. Gallinari's father, Vittorio Gallinari, was an Italian basketball star in the 1980s and early 1990s, best known for his work on the defensive end of the floor. Vittorio Gallinari won the 1987 Euroleague crown with Milano and also played for the Italian national team. Despite missing the first two games of the season through injury, the younger Gallinari stepped right in when ready and promptly dropped 18 points and 7 rebounds in his first Euroleague game as a starter. He reached the 20-point mark the next week – the first of four 20-point games he would mark up in the regular season. Moreover, Gallinari seemed to rise to the occasion against the toughest teams, averaging 23.5 points on 53.3% two-point and 38.5% three-point shooting, 4 rebounds and 3 steals in two games against Maccabi Elite, the only team from Milano's Group B that would eventually qualify for the Final Four. He also hit the key three-pointers down the stretch to lead Milano to its only home win of the season in January against Aris TT Bank. Consistency was a big part of his success and Gallinari scored in double figures in all but two appearances all season. Gallinari is the fourth winner of the award and the third to come from an Italian club. Last season the award went to Rudy Fernandez of DKV Joventut. The 2006 trophy was awarded to Andrea Bargnani of Benetton Treviso and in 2005 the winner was Erazem Lorbek of Climamio Bologna.
How does it feel to be the Rising Star Trophy winner in your first Euroleague season?
"Obviously, it's a great feeling. It gives me great satisfaction and it's a reward for the job I did during the season with the team, and individually with the coaches. I recognize it as a great accomplishment."
What do you think of the fact that two of the four winners so far are Italian and another played in the Italian League?
"That's a great sign for Italian basketball and a good result, especially, for Italian players. I hope to see very soon that more Italian teams rise up and reach the best European level."
How did you enjoy your first Euroleague season?
"It's a very high-level competition. It's more physical, and everything is more difficult, especially going to the basket. The speed is also higher, so you have less time to take decisions. I enjoyed myself playing the Euroleague this season, even though I would like to have played more games. I hope to play another Euroleague and reach a lot further in the competition."
You witnessed a 50 Years celebration in Milan during the season. What does this anniversary mean to a rising star like you?
"It's a great sensation to play for a team like Olympia Milano, that has done so much in the past. It's an honor for me to wear this jersey and it pushes me to always give my best. I hope in the future that Olympia will again reach the kind of results they had when my father was playing."