Francesca Pan is showing the world how good she can be at FIBA U20 World Championships
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Pretty much every time Joseph said the world is her oyster as long as she keeps progressing.
Pan has and so far at the FIBA U20 Women’s European Championship in Matosinhos, Portugal, the world has been just that.
Heading into Wednesday’s round of 16 action, Pan had staked Italy to a 3-0 record and first place in Group B in the group phase. The Italians were one of three undefeated teams in the tournament, joining Group A leader and defending European Champion Spain, which edged Italy, 71-69, in the title game last July 17, and Group D leader Russia.
Italy plays Sweden, which is 0-3, last in Group A, and has lost its three games by a combined 79 points, Wednesday afternoon at 4:15 p.m. — that’s 11:15 a.m. Atlanta time. (You can track the game and get live stats at http://www.fiba.com/europe/u20women/2017).
Pan, who’s standing on the left on the team’s page on the Tournament website (http://www.fiba.com/europe/u20women/2017/Italy) in the “speak-no-evil” pose, speaks nothing but praise for her teammates and their preparation for the tournament.
“I think that we did a great trial, we practiced with intensity and energy and we came here ready to play,” she said. “Before teammates we are friends. We’ve known each other for years and this is an important factor for the chemistry of the group.”
In this chemistry set Pan is the catalyst. She’s Italy’s leading scorer 14.0 ppg, pouring in 16 and 12 the two games she’s played — she was rested for the game against Lithuania — while converting a team-high 3.5 three-pointers per game, on a team-best 35.7 from behind the arc. She’s also hitting 75 percent of her free throws, while playing a team-high 33.2 minutes. Italy is plus-10 when she’s on the court, second on the squad. She scored 16 points in 37:19, both team-highs — the latter a game-high, in the 59-55 win over host Portugal in the opener, then added 12 points with six rebounds in 29:00 in the 67-55 win over Latvia. She and star big Olbis Futo Andre both sat in the 70-61 win over Lithuania.
It’s a resoundingly positive answer to any questions about how Pan would adapt to going back to the international game for the U20 Italian National Team.
“I don’t think it was a big adjustment,” said Pan, whose adaptation to DI college basketball went pretty well — ACC Freshman of the Year, five ACC Rookie of the Week awards and All-ACC Academic team. “The big difference between international basketball and American basketball is that international basketball is more a mental game than American basketball, which is more physical.”
Playing through the ACC brand of physical play made Pan stronger and gave her another facet of her game to use in her international play.
“It helped me a lot because the game is so much more physical in America,” she said. “So in the tournament I have been able to use the physicality I learned at Georgia Tech as well as the things I’ve learned at home to help my team in any way I can.”
Should Italy advance past Sweden it would play the winner of the game between The Netherlands (1-2, tied for second in Group D) and France (2-1, in a three-way tie for first in Group C), on Thursday at 2 p.m. locally (9 a.m. in Atlanta).
Pan didn’t play against the Swedes in the last year’s U20 European Championship, (Italy won 60-56 victory on their way to reaching the championship game) and, of course didn’t play The Netherlands or France either, as Italy didn’t see them. But there’s nothing any of those teams can throw at her that she didn’t see in her first season on The Flats. This is a battle-tested Francesca Pan, who showed she could take over games in the ACC as well as on the national stage, doing so in the WNIT even with extra attention being paid to her by opposing defenses.
“Surely playing in the ACC against really good teams like Duke, Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Florida State and then playing in a post season tournament like the WNIT made me tougher and helped me to grow as a player,” she said. “I think I can say that I have international experience and this helps me to face up to this type of tournament. I can say that I also have grown physically and I feel stronger.”
The growing isn’t nearly over for Pan, who will come back to Atlanta on July 28th and be ready to start training for the 2017-18 Georgia Tech season.
Regardless of how far Italy goes in the European Championship, she’ll be anything but satisfied when she gets back to campus. Pan will be hungrier than ever even with an amazing freshman year and this summer building block with the Italian National Team under her belt.
She still has plenty to shoot (and pass, and rebound, and defend) for regarding Georgia Tech.
“My goal for the season is to continue to improve my game because I know I have big expectations of me coming off a good year like the last one,” she said. “I want to help my team get to the NCAA Tournament and the ACC Championship Game.”