ROME, OCT. 26 -- He came to Italy with none of the fanfare that surrounded Danny Ferry, Brian Shaw or Michael Cooper. But Vinny Del Negro is turning the Italian basketball league into his private showcase.
After six games with Benetton Treviso, Del Negro is second in the league in scoring with a 33.7 average and his team is undefeated.
In his most recent outing, the 6-foot-4 guard scored 40 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had six assists as Benetton beat Clear Cantu, 97-86, Sunday.
Del Negro, who is of Italian descent, has been such a sensation that basketball officials are trying to convince him to acquire Italian citizenship so he can play for the national team.
"Having a player like Vinny Del Negro is like having a license to dream," gushed Rome's Il Messaggero newspaper. That's quite a compliment from a paper that sponsors Il Messaggero Roma, a team which featured Ferry and Shaw last season and brought in Cooper this year.
The Italian press calls Del Negro "paisa," a term of endearment dervived from "paisano."
Italian fans have taken notice too. Del Negro is the leading vote-getter in balloting for the Italian all-star game to be held Dec. 1 in Rome.
"Things are going well," Del Negro said by telephone from Treviso, near Venice in northeast Italy. "I just keep working hard. The better I get, the better the team will be. My biggest goal is to help the team win."
He's doing just that, exciting the fans who drove away Benetton's coach last year and now are standing in the aisles applauding the team for five minutes after every game.
Few expected so much from the 24-year-old native of Springfield, Mass. After all, he averaged only 9.1 points per game at North Carolina State and 8.4 points in two seasons with the NBA's Sacramento Kings.
In Italy Del Negro has scorted less than 30 points only once. He is shooting 61 percent and is second in the league in assists (4.0 average).
"He's doing everything so easy," said Philips Milan Coach Mike D'Antoni, a former NBA and Italian league player. "Not only is he scoring a lot of points but he's making other players play really well. He has his game going. It's tough to shut him off."
Said Sandro Gamba, coach of the Italian national team: "If I were in the government, I would give him immediate citizenship." In fact, Gamba has already talked to Del Negro about the possibility of becoming Italian and playing for the national squad -- a process that can take several years.
Del Negro, whose grandfather emigrated to the United States from southern Italy, said his agent is studying the option but he is not yet actively considering such a move.
"I'm not worried about that right now," he said. "I just want to win, and then at the end of the year I'll look at my options. If it's meant to be it will happen. If it's not, it won't."
The same goes for Del Negro's chances of returning to the NBA. He has a three-year contract with Benetton, but option clauses allow him to go back to the United States, former home of several players now making a big impact in Italy.
Former Los Angeles Laker Cooper is averaging 19.2 points, former New Jersey Net forward Charles Shackleford is averaging 20.8 points and a league-high 16.4 rebounds, and former Laker and Washington Bullet Jay Vincent is scoring 29 points per game.
Mitchell Anderson, playing in his sixth season in Italy, leads all scorers with a 35.0 average. Bob McAdoo is third at 32.0.