DEN_Gallinari_DaniloDenver Nuggets’ forward Danilo Gallinari is targeting a return in time for next season’s training camp, having been out of action since April last year.

The Italian, 25, had been expected to return at some stage this season, but it was decided he would require another operation to fix his torn ACL in his left knee after the first was eventually ruled ‘insufficient’.

Reflecting on the decision, Gallinari told MVP: “It was a tough day, but at the same time it was kind of a good day because we all knew that it was time to do a normal surgery.”

The injury had come at the worst time for the 6’9″ forward just as he and Denver were building up a head of steam heading into the play-offs.

“We had a great year and I had a great season,” said Gallinari. “Everything was going in the right direction in order to finish strongly in the play-offs too. So that was even tougher, but sometimes this happens.”

He added: “It’s always tough to stay off the basketball court. Especially because you cannot do what you love.”

The Nuggets finished the 2012-13 regular season as third seeds in the Western Conference, but suffered a first-round exit at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. George Karl had claimed his first Coach of the Year award after leading a relatively young roster to a franchise-record 57 wins.

This season has not proved to be as fruitful.

Denver fired Karl and brought in Brian Shaw as the new head-coach. Only Kenneth Faried and Ty Lawson remain from last season’s core starting rotation with Gallinari on the sidelines while Andre Iguodala (Golden State) and Kosta Koufos (Memphis) were shipped off in trades.

With just over a month left of the regular season, the fans at the Pepsi Center look set to miss out on post-season action for the first time since 2003, with Denver currently languishing nine games back with a 27-35 record.

The absence of Gallinari has clearly been a factor. At just 25 years of age, the Italian already has six years of NBA experience under his belt, playing in 285 games with a high-percentage of those as a starter. Last season, he started all 71 games and averaged a career-high 16.2 points per game. Gallinari has gone from strength to strength in his career and puts it down to rubbing shoulders with the world’s best.

He explained: “The NBA is the best league in the world. Having the chance to play against the best night in and night out is great because it takes your game to another level.”

The dream became a reality for Gallinari back in 2008 when the New York Knicks gambled by selecting an unheralded 19-year-old from Sant’Angelo Lodigiano as the number 6 pick. In the preluding season with Olimpia Milano, Gallinari earned the Italian MVP honours as well as picking up the EuroLeague Rising Star award before making himself eligible for the NBA Draft.

Reflecting on that night, Gallinari said: “I was very happy and excited to have the chance to play in the NBA. The draft night was probably one of the most emotional moments in my life.”

Gallinari returned to play for the Serie A side during the 2011 NBA Lockout having emulated his father by playing for the Italian side when he was first signed in 2005. Vittorio Gallinari was a EuroLeague (European Champions Cup) winner with Milano alongside current LA Lakers head-coach Mike D’Antoni in the 1986-87 season.

As well as playing for the same team, Gallinari junior also inherited the nick-name ‘Gallo’ – which translates as ‘rooster’.

“I love my nickname,” he said. “It’s special to me because it was my Dad’s nickname when he was playing basketball too.”

The Denver #8, notably born on 8/8/88, found himself in unfamiliar territory when he first moved to America to fulfil his dream, but he was accompanied by a few familiar faces; Andrea Bargnani and Marco Belinelli. The renowned Italians were already playing in the NBA and Gallinari’s adjustment was eased by his compatriots.

And he said: “We talked a lot back then and we are always talking to each other now so they did help me a little bit, but you live your own life and just have to adjust yourself.”

The trio are fully committed to the national side and have since been joined in the NBA by compatriot Luigi Datome, of the Detroit Pistons. So far, Gallinari has only played in one major national tournament (2011 EuroBasket), but takes great honour in pulling on the Italian jersey.

“I am very proud (representing Italy) and hopefully my people in Italy are proud of me too.”

He was sorely missed at the 2013 EuroBasket as Italy agonisingly missed out on a place at this summer’s FIBA World Cup. Gallinari had been instrumental in helping his side reach Slovenia with an impressive showing in the qualifiers, but would miss last year’s tournament along with Bargnani.

Head-coach Simone Pianigiani led his side comfortably through the first two group stages and into the quarter-finals where they would meet their demise at the hands of Lithuania. Still in control of their destiny, the Italians then suffered consecutive defeats to Ukraine and Serbia resulting in an 8th placed finish, outside of the golden top seven heading to Spain for the World Cup.

“It was so tough,” admitted Gallinari. “Especially because we finished 8th and the first seven teams qualified. It’s something that we need to learn from and now we have to be focused for this summer because we need to qualify for the next European Championships.”

Gallinari will again have to watch on from the sidelines this summer as Italy battle Russia and Switzerland home and away in order to secure their place at next year’s EuroBasket, due to be held in Ukraine.

So, what does the future hold for Gallinari upon his return? He has three clear and ambitious goals: become an All-Star, an NBA champion and win with his beloved Italy.

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