Coming off a Thursday in which the options for sports bettors included U.S. Open golf, a full slate of MLB regular season games, an overtime thriller that sent the Tampa Bay Lightning to the NHL Finals, Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, and NFL Thursday Night Football, it’s hard to imagine that gamblers in Indiana felt an acute need for more sporting events to wager on — but they’re getting one.
Thursday, the Indiana Gaming Commission released an updated list of approved events for sports wagering, adding Italy’s Serie A professional basketball league, which will begin its 2020-21 season on Sept. 27. Other “first tier FIBA leagues” from Spain, China, Turkey, Greece, Australia, and several other countries had already been approved, along with the EuroLeauge basketball tournament, international competitions like the Olympic basketball championship and the FIBA World Cup.
Some online sportsbooks operating in Indiana are already offering odds on Serie A basketball. BetRivers posted lines for Friday’s games in the semifinal round of the Italian SuperCoppa, a separate tournament that will wrap up this weekend before the beginning of league play. BetMGM is offering futures bets on the eventual league winner, with heavy favorite Milano priced at -182, trailed by Bologna at +300 and Dinamo Sassari and Venezia at +700. Other leading mobile betting platforms, such as DraftKings, FanDuel, and PointsBet, have yet to add Serie A hoops to their menu of betting options.
Although international basketball is unlikely to generate betting handle numbers comparable to any of the major American team sports, it’s worth remembering that just a few months ago, during the barren days of worldwide COVID-19 lockdowns, Korean professional baseball, Russian ping-pong, and cornhole tournaments helped keep the lights on at U.S. sportsbooks. And if there’s any state where far-flung pro hoops leagues might be expected to draw greater than average interest, that state would be Indiana, with perhaps the strongest local basketball tradition and culture in the nation.
Italian Pro Basketball Basics
Serie A arguably has the richest history of any domestic professional league outside of the United States. In the 1980s and ’90s, Italian pro clubs were flush with cash and attracted many of the best players in the world outside of the NBA. Brazilian legend Oscar Schmidt played in Italy from 1982-93, winning seven scoring titles and one championship along the way. During those years, Schmidt was an early hoops hero of an American boy who spent much of his childhood in Italy and went on to be one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, Kobe Bryant. (Bryant’s father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, played in Italy after nearly a decade in the NBA.) Former Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni starred at guard for 13 years on Italian basketball’s glamour team, Olympia Milano. Manu Ginobili cut his teeth at Virtus Bologna before embarking on his storied, 16-year career with the San Antonio Spurs.
Over the past 15 years, Serie A has ceded the “best basketball outside of the NBA” territory to Spain’s ACB league, Turkish Basketball Super League not far behind. But the top Italian teams like Milano and Bologna have remained competitive with the best EuroLeague clubs, and every season two or three other Italian teams establish themselves as contenders.
Milano, this season’s favorite, has won the Serie A title 28 times — more than any other Italian club — and has aggressively rebuilt its roster after a nearly 20-year championship drought between 1996 and 2014. Its coach, Ettore Messina, spent five seasons on Gregg Popovich’s staff with the Spurs and is often named as the international coach most likely to someday take an NBA head coaching job. This season, Milano hired veteran import Kyle Hines, maybe the most decorated and winningest player in the recent history of European basketball, in hopes that he can claim his fifth EuroLeague title for the Armani-backed Italian club. Other notable Milano players include former Atlanta Hawks guard Malcolm Delaney, former University of Arizona big man Caleb Tarczewski, and aging European stars Sergio Rodriguez and Luigi Datome, both of whom have bounced back and forth between elite international clubs and the NBA.
Bologna, Milano’s chief rival, is led by one of Hines’ former teammates at CSKA Moscow, Serbian point guard Milos Teodosic, who spent last season with the Los Angeles Clippers. Dinamo Sassari tends to be a favorite among bettors because of its fast-paced style of play. Heavy on three-point shooting and looking to push the ball up the court whenever possible, the Sardinian club tends to create high-variance outcomes and has shown a knack for overachieving in recent years. It’s a popular pick for total points overs bets and moneyline underdog wagers.
Most European domestic leagues place some limits on the number of foreign players allowed on each roster. In Italy, teams are allowed to hire five players from outside of the European Union or three players from outside of the E.U., plus four non-Italians from E.U. countries. Sports gamblers in Indiana will probably recognize more than a few names of former NBA players or ex-stars from the Big Ten and other NCAA Division 1 college programs in the Midwest on Serie A squads.
Drew Crawford, former Northwestern guard (and son of NBA referee Danny Crawford), plays for Brescia and is the league’s reigning MVP. Longtime NBA forward Luis Scola is still tooling about in Varese at age 40, schooling younger defenders in the forgotten art of up-and-under post moves. Former Marquette star Travis Diener has retired, but he may be even more of a legend in Sardinia — where Dinamo Sassari has retired his number — than in his home state of Wisconsin.
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