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Bury St Edmunds-based West Suffolk Wolves pull off coup as former Italian international Angusto Binelli comes in as a coach

When one of his academy players passed on an approach by an Italian coach to work with an English club, West Suffolk Wolves’ Darren Johnson anticipated it being a youngster looking to gain experience.

But when the CV came through he got a shock, for it included being drafted in the NBA as well as playing for 17 years at one of Italy’s biggest clubs, Virtus Bologna.

From September, the Bury St Edmunds-based club’s players will be able to benefit from being coached by former Italian international player Angusto Binelli, who will take on a full-time role at County Upper School.

Augusto 'Gus' Binelli, former Italian international basketball player who has agreed to join West Suffolk Wolves as a full-time coach (39525981)
Augusto 'Gus' Binelli, former Italian international basketball player who has agreed to join West Suffolk Wolves as a full-time coach (39525981)

With 102 international appearances, five Italian A1 league championships and a 10-year coaching career behind him, it is some coup for the club who recently renamed themselves from County Upper Wolves.

“One of my players got hold of us about it and when he made contact I thought it was going to be a coach in his 30s or 40s who wanted to come over and gain some experience,” said head coach Johnson.

“I then saw his resume and thought wow, this is not a regular coach.

“Bascially he just wants to experience what English basketball is like and living in England.”

Having coached youth players before, and worked for the Italian Basketball Federation for three of the last four years, Johnson is excited by what he can bring to their National League age group sides.

“To have his background in that sort of area as well as his coaching stuff is really good for us and our players,” he said.

The 7ft 1in former centre was the first Italian to be picked in the NBA, drafted as the first pick in the second round by the Atlanta Hawks in 1986 at the age of 21. But the implications of the contract meant he never did take up the offer to play in the world’s top league.

“If he would have gone there on the one-year deal he was offered as a second draft player and not made it he would have been considered American when he came back to Italian basketball and there were limits on the amount of American players teams could have,” explained Johnson.

“With the amount of ex-NBA players in Italy he might not have got back in. As it was he went back and played for Virtus Bologna for 17 years.”

Binelli proved to have remarkable longevity in the game, not retiring from playing until he was 45.

He will take the place of Aiden Saunders on the coaching staff at Wolves, who has returned to London, and will be head coach for the men’s, U18 boys and U14 girls sides.

Meanwhile, last week provided the welcome news from Basketball England that teams can return to indoor contact training, with some restrictions, from August 3.

A maximum of 30 people, including non-playing staff, will be permitted inside together and everyone must be temperature checked outside. Players are being told shouting is not permitted and they must not celebrate, including high fives, and they will have to stop every 20 minutes for disinfection breaks.

With the association’s ‘Return to Play’ model moving from Level 3 to Level 2, there is not yet an indication as to when league seasons can begin, but government approval will be required.

Johnson said: “It is exciting as we have been making do on outdoor courts, which do not really cut it with the weather it is open to.”