Suns to open preseason in Rome

Thursday, October 5th 2006, 11:05 am
By: News On 6

ROME (AP) _ Mike D'Antoni is still praised for his exploits as a player and coach in Italy.

He coached Benetton Treviso to two Italian league titles and remains Olimpia Milano's all-time leading scorer.

On Friday, the Phoenix Suns coach guides his team against Virtus Lottomatica Roma in a preseason game, one of several exhibitions by NBA teams in Europe.

``Playing in front of Italian fans gets you psyched up. It gets the adrenalin going a little,'' D'Antoni said.

The Suns trained in Treviso this week and end their tour next week after two games in Cologne, Germany.

``We've only been practicing for four days or so. It's not really the end of the world if we get beat,'' said Suns guard Steve Nash, the two-time defending MVP in the NBA.

The Suns are a strong title contender in the NBA with Nash and Amare Stoudemire, who returns after knee surgery kept him sidelined nearly all last season.

Stoudemire's game is based on explosiveness, and his athleticism made him a good fit in D'Antoni's up-tempo offense. The 6-foot-10 forward averaged 19.8 points and 8.8 rebounds in three-plus NBA seasons.

``Is it a championship ring year? I hope so,'' Nash said. ``You never know what each season holds, but I certainly feel that we are capable, and I'm excited to try.''

Nash, an avid soccer fan, had a one-on-one game of soccer and basketball scheduled with Italy playmaker Francesco Totti on Thursday.

``It'll be a big thrill for me to be on the same park,'' Nash said. ``I'm a (Tottenham) Spurs fan, but I love Italian soccer.''

Roma, which is led by Serbia forward Dejan Bodiroga, is one of the favorites to win the Italian league, along with Bologna and Treviso. Roma opens its Italian league season Wednesday.

Bodiroga is considered one of the best players never to play in the NBA. Over the course of a career in the Italian, Spanish and Greek leagues, he has led his teams to three Euroleague titles and six domestic league championships.

``I had many chances in my career, but I preferred to make other choices and I'm content,'' said the 33-year-old Bodiroga.

Center Alessandro Tonolli is entering his 13th season with Roma.

``We're ahead in our preparation and that could be a small advantage,'' Tonolli said. ``You can be sure we'll go out on the court with the intent to win, but a lot will depend on how seriously they want to play. If they have in mind an exhibition game, maybe we can win, otherwise we'll see.''

The Suns will attend Italy's game against Ukraine on Saturday.