Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves. Paolo Banchero wears his city on his.
Actually, that’s not quite correct. His city is his sleeve.
Tattooed on the Duke freshman’s right arm is an homage to Seattle. The Space Needle and Mount Rainier on his shoulder, 41st Ave. and S. Andover St. signs on his biceps — all tied together by the numbers 206 in the middle.
The Cameron Crazies may have fueled Banchero in person this year, but his hometown is what inspired him from afar. He knows who he’s representing every time he puts that Blue Devils jersey on.
“(Seattle) is on my mind a lot. Before every game, I know the whole city is watching,” said Banchero, an O’Dea grad. “Friends, family — I know they’re proud.”
Who wouldn’t be proud of what this kid is doing? Did you see Thursday’s Sweet 16 game vs. Texas Tech? The stat sheet shows Banchero finishing with 22 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals while going 7 of 12 from the field and 3 of 4 from distance. But that line tells the game story about as well as a trailer explains a movie.
With an overwhelmed Duke trailing 10-2 after the first four minutes, Banchero stepped up to get his team — and crowd — back in the game. There was a three-point play to tie the score at 12-12, then a three-pointer to tie it at 15, then two free throws to tie it at 22-22, then a jam at the end of the half to bring the Blue Devils to within five points.
But that was just the prelude. In the second half, he hit one three pointer to put Duke up by one with 8:25 left. After a layup two minutes later, he drilled a three-pointer with 2:57 remaining to give the Blue Devils a one-point lead that they never gave away in their 78-73 win.
After the game, a reporter asked him if he found a new clutch gene.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a new clutch gene at all,” Banchero said. “I would say all year in the biggest moments we’ve always stepped up, and there’s no bigger moment than this. I don’t know about these guys, but I’ve never played in a basketball game like that, so …”
Legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski interrupted him.
“You were terrific,” he said.
So terrific that you won’t find a mock draft on the internet that has Banchero going anywhere lower than fifth. Some speculate he could go No. 1. When you’re 6 feet 10, 250 pounds, can shoot as well as you drive and pass, pro teams are going to salivate. And though the clutch gene was on display Thursday night, other genes have been display all season — particularly the ones from his mother, Rhonda.
Rhonda played college hoops at Washington and left as the program’s all-time leading scorer. She ended up going in the third round of the WNBA draft and played nine games for Sacramento. Would Paolo still be an elite talent without her guidance? Maybe. But one could question whether he’d be the star he is today.
“She was definitely the main basketball influence in my life. She was a coach really in my early years growing up, so I was in the gym with her every day watching practice, going with her to games and practices,” said Banchero, whose father, Mario, played football at Washington. “She was a high-energy player as well, so I try and channel some of that. Some people might see me as more laid back, and my mom is the opposite, so I just try and channel some of that.”
He’s going to need to on Saturday against Arkansas. The Razorbacks have one of the top defenses in the country and stifled No. 1-ranked Gonzaga. Nobody is viewing them as a No. 4 seed that got lucky. A win and Krzyzewski goes back to the Final Four in his final season — and Banchero joins the legends in Seattle basketball lore.
“I remember being a kid watching Peyton Siva at Louisville, watching him win a national championship, knowing that he grew up right down the street from me,” said Banchero, who is in regular contact with the likes of former Husky greats such as Spencer Hawes, Dejounte Murray and Isaiah Thomas. “It makes you dream as a kid. I want to have the same effect.”
A national-championship ring would make for a great story. Maybe a tattoo as well.