More than anybody or something, it was the recruitment of Paolo Banchero that carried Coach Ok on his magical Farewell Tour to Saturday evening’s historic Final Four showdown with North Carolina.
Banchero, who has an opportunity to be the first-overall choose within the NBA draft, visited Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Gonzaga and Tennessee earlier than he cast his lot with Coach Ok … with the assistance of Breakfast at Coach Ok’s.
“You walk into Coach K’s house and it’s a little surreal … He’s an icon,” Banchero’s father Mario instructed The Post. “But then you sit down and you start talking, and he’s a real guy. It’s been great. He’s been great. He’s been fun to talk to. My wife [Rhonda] is really the basketball aficionado in our house — she played at a very high level, coached at a high level — and so they connected on that. There was just a connection. He’s about as solid as a guy that you can hope your son to play for.”
Paolo took his father’s recommendation and was thorough throughout all the course of.
“ ‘You have these five incredible coaches,’ ” Mario instructed him. “ ‘So during this process, utilize that. Talk to ’em about basketball. Have ’em break down your movie. Really reap the benefits of that.’ And he did. And along with that, he would bounce on Synergy [Sports] and look ahead to hours. He would watch movie of Duke going again 10 years. He would watch movie of Coach [Roy] Williams at North Carolina all the best way again to Kansas and Coach Cal [John Calipari at Kentucky].
“And so, all the way through the process what these guys were telling him, he was matching it up with what they actually did, what they actually ran. … Paolo dove into that and really, really looked at who is going to play me which kinda way, like how am I gonna fit, how’s this gonna work, and at the end of the day, he settled on what Coach K was telling him. He saw that in the film, and it fell true. Our experience here at Duke has been incredible, and everything Coach K said he was gonna do he’s done.”
Coach Ok and Paolo Banchero — one-and-done companions in crime.
“He’s always been a gamer,” Mario mentioned. “When the chips were down, he always came through.”
Over the primary 4 video games of the Tournament, Paolo averaged 18.5 factors, 7.0 rebounds, and three.8 assists. During the season, he was 17.1/7.7/3.2.
Rhonda performed basketball on the University of Washington and was drafted into the WNBA and performed within the ABL and abroad. Mario was a decent finish at Washington.
“I think he has a great deal of love for his family,” Mario mentioned. “I believe he has an excessive amount of affinity for the town of Seattle. He understands that these two issues have given loads to him. And so he desires to present again to them.
“He wants to be great, and he understands what that takes. He understands the work it takes, both mentally and physically. Ultimately, he wants to be great, he wants to be the best, and he wants to win above all else.”
As a 6-foot-10, 250-pound shot creator with versatility, Paolo would like to be the belle of the NBA ball over Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren.
“I think to a degree,” Mario mentioned. “He wants to win. When he went into college, he wanted to be Player of the Year, he wanted to be All-American, he wanted to be the No. 1 pick, all of these things. And he believes he is those things. He has a high level of confidence. They all sit just under winning a national championship. ’Cause at the end of the day, he wants to win first. He understands that winning takes a lot of hard work, and then a byproduct of that hard work, then comes kind of the individual accolades as a secondary deal. So he’s always been a kid who, if he focuses on the work and focuses on winning, the rest of the stuff will come.”
Paolo was a 6-foot-7 schoolboy quarterback in ninth grade till a closing progress spurt pushed him as soon as and for all to the hardcourt.
“He probably would tell you he thought he was gonna be a football player,” Mario mentioned, “because he was electric on the football field. He really was at the top of football for his age group before he was at the top of basketball for his age group. I used to tell him: ‘6-7 or under, you gotta play both. You get over 6-7, OK. At that point, you can move to basketball exclusively.’ ”
Mario — who’s president of Mondo & Sons Inc., a meat processor and distributor in Seattle — despatched present packing containers to all the pinnacle coaches concerned in Paolo’s recruitment as appreciation. Coach Ok, after all, wound up with the true filet mignon.
“I feel an immense pride in watching Paolo play,” Rhonda mentioned. “I’m watching him grow up on the court as the games progress! All of his work and hours in the gym are showing up in his game and in his quiet leadership. He’s a great teammate.”
“Sometimes you’ll watch a game and it can be in San Francisco versus Texas Tech, and you might as well pull me out of that Chase Center and plop me back in a gym in the seventh grade,” Mario mentioned. “Even if it’s just a game at UNC at the Dean Dome, or if it’s a first-round game NCAA Tournament game, or a game that punches your ticket to the Final Four, you do have those moments too, and it’s just incredible to see him sort of mature and grow into this role and have success, you see all the hard work that he’s put in pay off. … Proud is an understatement.”