If you look at the list of basketball players who have left Alba Berlin in recent years, continuity is not the first word that comes to mind. Marius Grigonis, Spencer Butterfield, Martin Hermannsson, Rokas Giedraitis, Franz Wagner, Tyler Cavanaugh, Dennis Clifford, Landry Nnoko, Simone Fontecchio, Peyton Siva, Jayson Granger, Niels Giffey – these selections to leave Berlin would make a profitable Euroleague team. However, continuity goes well beyond the purely personal level and is key to Berlin’s success despite the large volatility of the line-up.
With Alba kicking off the final Bundesliga basketball streak with a home game against Bayern Munich this Friday (20:30, Magentasport), the Berliners will continue their impressive streak. Since the beginning of the 2017/18 season, Alba has reached all national finals: five BBL finals, five cup finals. “It’s amazing for the club and makes us very proud,” says coach Israel Gonzalez, who came to Berlin in 2017 as assistant to the great Aito Garcia Reneses and replaced him last summer.
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Although there are only three players left in Luke Sikma, Jonas Mattisseck and Tim Schneider from the squad that were slightly defeated by Bayern Munich in both domestic competitions in 2017/18, the same people have long been working in strategically important positions. time: Manager Marco Baldi since the club was founded in 1991 and sports director of Himar Ojeda since 2016. There is also a great deal of continuity in the coaching team around Gonzalez.
Without positive economic development in the years before the pandemic, it would not be possible to return to the top of the German table and jump into the continental elite with good prospects for a permanent Euroleague license. But for Baldi, money is an important factor, but not the determining factor. “We have a culture here that is very different from other clubs,” says the manager. It starts at the basketball club with the largest number of members in Germany, with numerous collaborations in the nursery area, and ends with a professional team. “When all the wheels engage so well and we show our strengths so clearly at the top, it’s just nice to look at,” says Baldi.
Of course, the needs and requirements vary widely between popular and professional sports, but the main pillars of the basketball philosophy are identical. Even among professionals, success is not only measured by results and titles. The emphasis is on playing basketball and further development, both individually and as a team. Berliners see sporting success as a logical consequence.
One of the best examples of this path is Jonas Mattisseck. The Berliner found his way to the Alba youth via VfL Lichtenrade and TuS Lichterfelde and took his first steps with professionals in 2018. The 22-year-old ranger is now a lieutenant. “It’s amazing that our focus is still on having fun,” says Mattisseck. Of course, basketball is his job, expectations are high and it’s not always fun, but “even after failures, we try to be relaxed, see the big picture and be proud of what we have here.”
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For Baldi, players like Mattisseck, especially Captain Luke Sikma, are crucial to keeping the chemistry in the team. “Despite many player changes, we always had a tribe to keep,” says the manager. Much can be said about the basketball culture and work ethic, but it is much more effective when experienced by experienced players and communicated to newcomers.
In Alba, this has worked exceptionally well in recent years. “The road has been different from year to year, but we’ve always been successful,” says Sikma. The 32-year-old American could make a lot more money elsewhere, but he is now playing for Berlin in his fifth year. “I am very happy that I was always able to play for the titles during this time and the club can be proud of that,” says Sikma.
The captain lost the first five finals to Alba, including the Eurocup 2019 final to his former team Valencia. There has been criticism and speculation as to why the team is losing in key matches. Sikma would have liked to have avoided failures, but those too were part of the maturation process. “These finals hurt, but also helped us individually and as a club,” he says. Disappointments made the team even more hungry, and four titles in the last two and a half years have made them feel even better.
Now Alba is back in the final after a long season, three wins short of his third consecutive championship. The conditions are perfect, because while the Berliners were able to prepare for the first game all week, Bayern Munich only fought their way to the final on Wednesday night. “We can be very proud of how we went through the play-offs and that’s a good situation for us,” says Jonas Mattisseck. “But slowly it’s time to start.”