What we know about Paolo Banchero’s parents

Paolo Banchero

Paolo Banchero considers himself the top NBA Draft pick of 2022. The 2022 Draft promises to be quite intriguing as there are four players with a chance of being the No. 1 overall selection. Banchero believes the Orlando Magic, which won the top pick during the Draft Lottery, should pick him over other top-tier prospects. 

Banchero told ESPN’s NBA Countdown crew that he is ‘the best overall player’ in the 2022 NBA Draft. “I feel like I check all the boxes,” Paolo said

Paolo’s parents, Mario Bachero and Rhonda Smith-Banchero, have demanded high standards from their son since he showed an interest in basketball. Their demands will soon bear fruit as Paolo joins the NBA, as the top pick or otherwise. 

Paolo initially showed interest in music, surprising his athletically-inclined parents

Mario and Rhonda were sports stars at the University of Washington. Rhonda scored for fun as part of the Huskies’ women’s basketball program, recording 2,948 points from 1991 to 1995. 

She left as the team’s leading scorer, cementing her spot as one of the program’s best players. Kelsey Plum would later break Rhonda’s record by scoring a college basketball leading 3,527 points. 

Smith-Banchero played for the Seattle Reign and Portland Power of the now-defunct American Basketball League. She also lined up for the Sacramento Monarchs of the WNBA, becoming the first Washington player to join the league and later played in Israel and Taiwan. 

Paolo Banchero’s mother Rhonda (left)

Paolo never saw Rhonda play in person, but he’s seen enough footage to appreciate that she was a force to be reckoned with. He believes that some aspects of his game mirror Rhonda’s style. 

“Seeing her do that [on tape], you don’t even realize that you’re looking like your mom,” Paolo told Andscape. “But I’ve had countless people come up to me and tell me how good she was. And she was really a beast.”

Mario Banchero played tight end for the University of Washington’s football team. Rhonda and Mario met at the institution and started a relationship.

The couple were pleasantly surprised when young Paolo showed interest in music. Paolo loved local jazz musician Michael Powers and showed interest in drums. Banchero’s parents indulged him by taking him to Powers’ performances, signing him up for drum lessons, and buying him a drum set. 

Inevitably, however, Paolo’s drum obsession faded as he gravitated to sports. “Listen, I’m 6-1, my husband is 6-3 ½,” Rhonda told The Athletic. “We both knew what hopefully was going to happen.”

Paolo can play for Italy as his father has Italian heritage

Paolo’s eligibility for the Italian national team surprised some basketball fans. Banchero was born in Seattle in November 2002 and grew up in Washington state. How then could he line up for Italy?

Banchero’s great-grandfather immigrated to the United States from Northern Italy to work in the coal mines of Black Diamond, Washington. His son, Paolo’s grandfather, wasn’t naturalized in the United States, giving Paolo a route to Italian citizenship. 

Paolo’s parents, Mario and Rhonda Smith-Banchero

Paolo became an Italian citizen in June 2020, making him eligible to play for the country’s basketball teams. Banchero told fiba.basketball:

“I’m proud to wear the Azzurri jersey. I will never forget when I received it for the first time. I have it framed in my room. I’m proud to be playing for Italy and proud of the heritage of my family.”

Paolo is biracial, with an Italian-American father and an African-American mother. 

Banchero’s mother helped him get his start in basketball

Smith-Banchero was a coach at Holy Names Academy in Seattle when Paolo started playing basketball. She allowed Paolo to shoot at the basket during practices as long as he took it seriously. 

“I see him throwing up trick shots or just hooking the ball up. And I stopped or pause, go over there and tell him, ‘Don’t practice bad shots. Don’t practice that mess,’” Smith-Banchero told Andscape. “And he was just always listening. Coachable, even from that age.”

Paolo benefited from his mom’s focus on fundamentals. Rhonda told The Athletic that boys often lack fundamentals because their game is more athletically-inclined. Despite his physical size and strength, Paolo struggled against girls who had a better grasp of basketball’s basics. Rhonda continued:

“We put him out there with the girls (when he got older), and … they were better than he was, so he had to really kind of think about it: how to score on them, how to be successful with girls who were quite a bit older and faster and stronger.”

Given his mom’s contribution to his game, it was a special moment for mother and son as Paolo cut down the nets following Duke’s West Regional triumph, with Rhonda filming. 

“My mom won a state championship as a coach, and I remember her cutting down the net,” he said. “I remember her swirling the net around and I always wanted to do that. I looked up there [in the stands] and told my mom to make sure she gets the video.”

Mario advised Paolo to focus on two sports before he was big enough to commit to basketball

Mario told The New York Post that he advised Paolo to focus on two sports before gaining the height to commit to basketball. In ninth grade and at 6-foot-7, Paolo was a better quarterback than a basketball player. Mario explained:

“He probably would tell you he thought he was gonna be a football player. 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.’”

The Banchero family
The Banchero family

After Paolo grew beyond 6-foot-7, Mario allowed him to commit to basketball. Rhonda was Paolo’s primary influence and coach, and Mario chipped in with advice. 

Paolo’s parents allowed him to pick which college he wanted to play for, and contrary to their expectations, he chose Duke. “Duke was, we thought, on the fringes. Just outside,” Rhonda told The Athletic

Banchero chose Duke because coach Mike Krzyzewski promised to improve his game exponentially. Mario admitted to being a little overwhelmed when he walked into Mike’s house. 

“He’s [Mike] an icon,” Mario told The New York Post. “He’s about as solid as a guy that you can hope your son to play for.”  Mario advised Paolo to make full use of all the resources at Duke. 

“He [Paolo] wants to be great and he understands what that takes,” Mario added. “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.”

With his athleticism, attitude, and mindset, Paolo’s primed to take the NBA by storm. “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,” Mario said. “Proud is an understatement.”

Paolo banned his mom from games when she became too critical

Like most great players, Paolo often played against players older than him to neutralize his physical advantages. It forced him to improve his skill rather than rely on his athleticism or his team’s collective talent. 

On the sidelines, Rhonda pushed him to the edge, scrutinizing his game to the minute details. Even when Paolo performed well, he failed to meet Rhonda’s stratospheric expectations. 

Paolo Banchero’s mother Rhonda

“As I got older and started playing real AAU games, she’d be there yelling,” Paolo told The Athletic. “Giving me the business after games in the car ride home. She was one of those parents. I hated it back then. Plenty of games where I was upset.”

Rhonda knew that his son hated his constant yelling, but she couldn’t help it. “I was very critical, I won’t lie,” Rhonda said. “I was one of the loudest people in the gym telling him what he needed to be doing — and he hated it.”

Smith-Banchero had received similar treatment from her dad, and she’d grown sick of it – but she couldn’t tell him off. Paolo, Rhonda discovered, wasn’t as meek as she was: Banchero requested her not to attend his games. 

“It actually impacted our relationship negatively. He was like, ‘I don’t want you to come to any more of my stuff: like, my games or anything.’ So for a year, I didn’t,” Rhonda told The Athletic. “And it was hurtful, but it wasn’t. I understood it.”

Rhonda’s yelling had become a distraction for Paolo: he struggled to focus on games as his mother called out from the sidelines. After serving her one-year ban, Rhonda returned to the sidelines, initially struggling to remain silent but eventually accepting that Paolo’s coaches could handle him. 

“I was probably too hard on him because I felt like other people weren’t,” Rhonda said. “It took a while for me to realize that he was as good as people said he was.”

Rhonda’s demanding nature helped Paolo when he started playing under coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. Mike explained:

“Anybody has a better chance to develop if they’re told the truth all the time, and his family does that. So I already know that that’s how he was brought up, so we tell him the truth, and he’s accepting of the truth. He wants to hear it. So I love that about him, and that’s why he’s getting better.”

Rhonda taught Paolo to be extra careful growing up as a young Black man

“My mom, she’s been real adamant about just teaching me how to navigate in the world we live in,” Paolo told Andscape. Rhonda was alarmed when the then-6-foot-2 Paolo, clad in a hoodie and alongside a white classmate, playfully tapped his old elementary school windows in the back alley. 

Paolo couldn’t understand why his mom was so upset about the seemingly harmless prank. “My emotions are way up here because I’m scared,” she said. The shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida was still fresh on her mind. Rhonda banned Paolo from wearing hoodies and advised him to wear a hat. 

Mario and Rhonda Smith-Banchero
Paolo’s parents, Rhonda and Mario Banchero

Following the shooting of Philando Castile in July 2016, Rhonda advised Paolo to mention his age and place his hands on the dashboard when questioned by the police in a car. She didn’t know that Paolo would need the advice two years later. 

In June 2018, Paolo and Noah Williams were pulled over by police on suspicion of stealing a Jeep. The Jeep Noah was driving belonged to his mother, but the police assumed that the two black men were Jeep thieves. 

The Seattle Times reported that an officer pointed a gun at Williams’ head without offering an explanation. Rhonda said that an officer hit Paolo in the chest but deescalated when he heard his age (15 years old).

Williams’s sister arrived and explained that the car belonged to her mom. The Jeep police were looking for had been moved by the owner from the parking lot. “I’ve had some encounters where I had to do the right thing in situations that were tricky,” Paolo said. “Just knowing what my mom had taught me and using that was big.”

Banchero and Williams sued the King County Sheriff’s Office, obtaining an apology and $80,000 and forcing the implementation of new use-of-force guidelines. “He [the attorney] said they never do that,” Rhonda said. “They always just pay the money and keep going.”

Being minors, the identities of the plaintiffs were kept hidden. Paolo opened up about the incident in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police. “Took me almost 2 years to speak on it,” he tweeted

“I never shielded him from stuff like that because he was just too tall, too Black,” Rhonda said. “Doesn’t matter that my husband is white, my son looks Black.”